If you and your spouse plan to live apart, it is important to understand the difference between divorce and legal separation. Whichever option you choose, you should also consider entering into a separation agreement. An attorney can help you understand exactly how arrangements could work in your circumstances, but here are some general guidelines.
Divorce Ends a Marriage
Just as you’d expect, a divorce permanently terminates a marriage relationship. Whether you divorce based on fault, such as adultery, or obtain a no-fault divorce based on a breakdown of your marriage, the final divorce decree has the same effect. You are no longer married.
Unlike some jurisdictions, Georgia does not require couples to live separately before they seek a divorce. The law does provide a minimum 30-day waiting period between the time divorce papers are filed and the divorce is finalized.
Separate Maintenance is a Type of Legal Separation
In Georgia, there is no such thing as a “legal separation”; instead, there is a similar arrangement referred to as “separate maintenance”. This option allows couples who are living apart to address issues such as alimony, child support, and child custody through legal means. However, it is important to note that even though the couple may have separate living arrangements, they are still considered to be married and joint owners of all marital property.
A couple can qualify for a separate maintenance order by proving to the court that:
- They remain legally married
- They are living apart with no cohabitation
- Neither spouse has filed for divorce
Separate maintenance is a good option for couples not allowed to divorce due to religious or philosophical beliefs. It also works well for couples who have struggled significantly but could potentially reconcile. Although the couple remains legally married for property purposes and factors such as employer-sponsored health insurance, they can live separate lives away from their marriage roles.
A Separation Agreement Can Be Helpful Regardless of Which Option You Choose
A separation agreement does not change a couple’s status, but it clarifies their rights and obligations. It operates as a contract rather than a court order. In a separation agreement, couples can develop their terms regarding how they will divide assets and debts, whether one spouse will pay alimony, and how custody will be handled.
You can also specify how you divide property and debts acquired during the time you are living separately. The terms of a separation agreement can be incorporated into a divorce decree, saving time, uncertainty, and conflict in the future.
A Family Law Attorney Can Help You Find the Right Path Forward
When your marriage is broken, it can be difficult to know what to do about it. A consultation with an experienced family law attorney at Tessie D. Edwards & Associates can help you understand your options and the ways these options would impact your life.
To talk to us about a divorce, separation agreement, or separate maintenance, just give us a call.