Legal Separation AKA Divorce from Bed and Board
In a divorce there are generally four major categories of things to deal with, namely (1) child issues, (2) equitable distribution issues (assigning assets and debt), (3) spousal support (alimony) issues, and (4) “temporary” issues while the divorce is pending, such as who can live where, who can use the car, who pays the bills.
A legal separation is technically called a divorce from bed. In such a case, the RI courts can only deal with three of the issues dealt with in a divorce. Those issues are (1) child issues, such as custody, possession, child support, etc., (2) alimony, and (3) “temporary issues.”
Know the Difference Between Divorce and Legal Separation in Rhode Island
So the first major difference is that the courts will not assign assets and debt between the parties. If one party wins the lottery, it's still a marital asset. If a party racks up debt, its still marital debt.
The next major difference, which is obvious, is that with a legal separation, you are still married. The theory is that parties may need room to breathe and figure out if there can be any solutions to their marriage problems. For this reason, the courts will not penalize a party who is legally separated for things that the court usually punishes if such behavior occurs after the separation. This would include issues surrounding abandonment, affairs, or the like. This limbo lasts until the parties either reconcile and dismiss the separation case. Or if they decide to move on with a full divorce.
The process for a legal separation is essentially the same as a divorce, with the same timetable as a divorce. However, in the end, you only receive an order granting the divorce from bed and board, as opposed to a final decree of divorce.