Legal Separation vs. Divorce

by Tracy Crider
in Divorce
Breaking bridge

What are your goals in seeking a divorce? What are your reservations about going through the process? Depending on your answers to these questions, it may be worth considering what is known as a “legal separation” through a petition for separate maintenance. (Note: Georgia does not use the term legal separation in the law literature. For simplicity's sake, we use it here. This blog is not meant to be a legal thesis but rather a helpful tool for the layperson trying to understand their options.)

Legal Separation vs. Divorce

With a divorce, the spouses formally terminate their marriage through the court system, and their legally-recognized relationship comes to an end. With a legal separation, the spouses remain legally married, but they establish formal parameters for living their lives independently.

Reasons to Consider a Divorce as Opposed to a Legal Separation

For many spouses, a divorce is the best path forward. If you are ready to bring your marriage to an end – whatever the reason may be – a divorce is the legal process for doing so. In Georgia, you do not need specific fault-based grounds to file for divorce; it is enough to state that your marriage is “irretrievably broken.” Through a divorce, you can formally and finally resolve issues such as:

  • Property division
  • Debt division
  • Spousal support and maintenance
  • Child support
  • Child custody and time-sharing

Reasons to Consider a Legal Separation

In Georgia, becoming legally separated is an option if you are opposed to obtaining a divorce. For example, many couples choose a legal separation because:

  • Their religious or moral beliefs prevent them from obtaining an absolute divorce;
  • They wish to live apart but are not yet ready to commit to the finality of an absolute divorce;
  • They need to preserve important financial benefits only available to married spouses, such as continued health insurance coverage.

A legal separation through a petition for separate maintenance is also an option if you are not eligible to file for a divorce under Georgia law. This issue most commonly arises when a spouse has not resided in the state for at least six months, as required to file for a divorce in Georgia.

Which Option is Best for You?

Which option is best for you? This is a deeply personal question that requires careful consideration of your unique personal, family, and financial circumstances. If you are unsure, you may consider pursuing a legal separation – you can file for a divorce later -- and use a petition for separate maintenance to lay the groundwork for the potential termination of your marriage. A legal separation may also provide the opportunity to reconcile with your spouse, if that is something you want to pursue. However, going through both processes will mean incurring additional costs, and cost may be a factor that influences your decision. If you would like more information about the costs and benefits involved, we encourage you to contact us for a confidential divorce consultation.

Schedule a Confidential Divorce Consultation at Stearns-Montgomery & Proctor

To speak with an attorney about the differences between divorce and legal separation in Georgia, please contact us to arrange an initial consultation. We have six convenient office locations throughout the Atlanta metropolitan area. You can reach us by phone at (678) 971-3413, or send us your contact information online, and we will be in touch as soon as possible.