A separation in a marriage commonly begins with a degree of dissatisfaction by one or both spouses. This unhappiness or lack of joy can be the result of problems such as infidelity, substance or other abuse, financial problems or emotional neglect. Bottom line, a degree of dissatisfaction with the state of the marriage is almost always at the root of what leads a couple to separate.
Instead of divorcing, some couples choose to live apart during uncertain times. During this time, both parties may seek professional counseling, individually or together, with the goal of reuniting in the future. It is also common for some people to simply need time alone, away from the other person, for a variety of reasons. Separation of this type rarely involves the legal system or law enforcement. It is simply a mutual agreement between two spouses to resort to time apart.
A legal separation is much like a mutual, non-binding separation, except it involves going through the channels of a family or divorce. During the process, both parties, usually represented by attorneys, agree to specific terms during a period of living apart. This may include custody of children and child support, use of the marital home or legal access to financial assets. When an agreement is reached, a judge deems the separation legal and binding. Generally, a legal separation consists of many of the same steps as a divorce but it does not dissolve the marriage.