In Minnesota, legal separations are not common, and are often confused with certain steps that are part of the divorce process.
While not technically correct, the term is often used to describe a couple whose divorce is not yet complete, such as a husband and wife who no longer live together, or a couple who are awaiting trial of their marriage dissolution in court.
The only real difference between an actual “legal separation” and a divorce is the breaking of the bonds of matrimony. That is, a legal separation addresses custody of children, parenting schedules, asset division, debt responsibility, and other financial issues – just like a divorce – but the couple stays married.
The reason that legal separations are uncommon is mainly that they are useful in very limited circumstances. There is no residency requirement for a legal separation, whereas a divorce requires at least one of the spouses to have been a resident of the State of Minnesota for at least 180 days. So, a legal separation is useful if one wants relief in family court but has not lived in the state for very long.
Another circumstance in which legal separation may be appropriate is if both spouses are firmly convicted that, for religious reasons, divorce is simply not an option. Legal separation allows the couple to get relief from the family court without terminating the marriage.
In most other situations (other than short-term residency or religious convictions), there is little reason to pursue a legal separation rather than a dissolution of the marriage.