A married couple can separate without going to court or filing any particular paperwork. This does not, however, effectuate a legal divorce. A person remains married until a judge officially grants the divorce in court. A legal divorce also requires filing at least some preliminary paperwork with the court in order for the judge to grant the divorce.
The distinction between divorce and separation are crucial to understand if you are thinking about getting divorced. Even if a couple is no longer in a romantic relationship, all of the property they accumulate during the separation period is still categorized as part of the community unless it can be clearly proved otherwise. This means that the property will be subject to division at divorce.
The potential consequences can be incredibly disappointing. Think about how much you may contribute to your retirement accounts during that period of time, or if you purchased a new vehicle. All of that—and anything else you obtain—are part of the “community pot” and would be split up between you and your spouse. So, while separating may be easier or less expensive in the short term, filing for divorce may protect your assets in the long term.