When a married couple is "separated" it essentially means that they're still married, but are living apart. That said, there are different types of separation, and this results in a lot of confusion.
The four primary categories of separation for married couples are: (1) trial separation, (2) living apart, (3) permanent separation, and (4) legal separation. Let's take a look at each of these terms in a little more detail.
1. Trial separation
If you and your spouse make the decision to live "separately" as a test to see if it's the right decision, then you can have what's called a "trial separation." Sometimes, couples will continue living in the same home, but sleep in separate beds, as a part of their trial separation. Ultimately, when you and your spouse do a trial separation it won't be a legally recognized event and the assets and/or debts you accumulate during the trial will still be a part of the marital estate.
2. Living apart
"Living apart" involves living in separate residences. By living in a different residence from your spouse, the arrangement might impact your marital property rights -- as assets and liabilities that you and your spouse accumulate will likely fall under the category of separate or individual property.
3. Permanent separation
When you and your spouse have decided that your separation will be permanent and final, and you will not get back together, then you can consider it to be a permanent separation. In Washington, a permanent separation is not entirely different legally from "living apart." However, this distinction is important for the couple that it involves.
4. Legal separation
When couples get a legal separation, they have finalized their separation in legal terms via a court-issued judgment. The couple might draft a separation agreement, which they sign and go to the court for approval. Or, the couple might litigate the matter in court to decide on child custody arrangements, child support, spousal support, property division and more.
Is separation right for you?
Different scenarios might make legal separation a better move for two spouses than going straight into divorce. Ultimately, couples will want to review the potential benefits and advantages of both before they determine what's right for them.