Legal separation is exactly the same as divorce, other than two things:
If you are unable to meet the residency requirements for a divorce, you can file for legal separation and “seek leave to amend” once you have met the residency requirements. Most people who consider getting a legal separation in California do so because they are not sure whether they really want to divorce their spouse. They often are looking for ways to protect themselves from being financially responsible for their spouse’s debts.
A legal separation is litigated just like a divorce. All the assets and debts are divided. Custody and visitation is decided. Spousal support and child support are ordered (if appropriate). Just like in a divorce, there is a trial and a judgment is entered. The only difference is that a legal separation requires no waiting period, both spouses must agree to the legal separation, and if one spouse wishes to go through with the divorce at a later time he/she must file new paperwork with the court to have the marriage dissolved. A legal separation is only appropriate in a very narrow set of circumstances. The most common circumstances include where both parties’ religious beliefs prohibit a divorce or where one party needs the other party’s medical insurance due to health reasons.