Georgia legal separation

Legal Separation vs. Divorce in Georgia

In some states, married couples can legally separate from one another while still being officially married. Georgia laws do not provide for such a procedure, offering a worthy equivalent instead. If spouses cannot live together but are unsure if they want to dissolve their marriage for good, they have another option in GA – separate maintenance.

What is a Legal Separation in Georgia?

No actual statute regulates the norms of filing for legal separation in Georgia. Nevertheless, state laws allow couples to obtain separate maintenance and remain married on paper. This form of official separation in Georgia is a good option for those who want the court to establish the orders concerning child visitation, asset division, alimony, etc., allowing spouses to start living separate lives while maintaining their marital relations.

Separate maintenance, however, does not mean that either party must move out of their matrimonial house. Spouses can be considered separated even if they continue living under the same roof but occupy different bedrooms, do not have sexual relations with each other, and maintain separate households within the house.

Pursuing separate maintenance over a divorce is a personal choice every family should make for themselves. Many married people just want to take time away from their spouses to think about their relationships and whether they are worth saving. Besides, while some don’t want to end their relationships for particular religious reasons, others are simply afraid of the social stigma associated with divorce.

What is a Divorce in Georgia?

Divorce is a legal action that permanently terminates a marital relationship. A divorce decree declares that the marriage has officially ended. Additionally, this document establishes binding orders concerning property division, child custody, alimony, etc. After the final judgment is signed by the judge and filed with the court, the parties are legally single and can marry someone else.

Only spouses who have been state residents for at least six months can initiate a divorce process in Georgia (Georgia Code § 19-5-2). They can file for marriage dissolution on fault-based or no-fault grounds listed in Georgia Code § 19-5-3.

A divorce process in GA is similar to that in other states and can be either contested or uncontested. For an amicable marriage termination, spouses can create a settlement agreement to present it to the court for approval and entering its provisions into the divorce decree. For this, they should negotiate amicably all the relevant matters and decide on who gets what after divorce regarding property and debt responsibilities. In the case of a long-term marriage, the issue of spousal maintenance should also be addressed and settled. Additionally, if spouses have minor kids, they will have to settle on child-related matters concerning child custody, visitation rights, and child support.

The average length of a divorce process greatly depends on the case type and the spouses’ willingness to cooperate. A tense, contested litigation can sometimes last up to 3 years in most complex cases. If spouses fully cooperate in a full-agreement process, they can potentially get their divorce decree about 31 days after filing the petition, which is the shortest period possible in Georgia, though not very common. Typically, finalizing an uncontested case may take up to 45-60 days. The court’s workload and the judge’s schedule may influence the overall duration of a divorce process.

Of course, uncontested divorces are more popular mainly because they allow both parties to cut legal expenses significantly. Since no dispute resolutions, negotiations, or court hearings are required, they may avoid hiring lawyers and paying them thousands of dollars in hourly fees.

Besides, couples involved in an uncontested case can get their Georgia divorce forms at a relatively low price on our website. While we don’t give any legal advice, we provide court-approved papers and detailed instructions on how to file them to make the divorce preparation step much cheaper and less stressful for couples.

The Difference Between Legal Separation and Divorce

The main difference between legal separation, or separate maintenance in Georgia, and divorce is their final goal and legal outcome. While divorce permanently terminates the marriage, separate maintenance only establishes the norms of living apart for the spouses, preserving the validity of their marital union.

The processes are mostly the same: you still need to file a petition, serve the respondent, resolve the disputes, if any, and wait for the judge to sign the final order. Both also contain the same elements and settle the same matters concerning child support, custodial rights, alimony, and property division.

However, when the divorce decree is signed, it means that the marital union is broken and has legally ended. Spouses become single and free to marry someone else and start new families. The process is irreversible, and the union can be restored only if the ex-spouses decide to remarry each other.

In contrast, the decree of separate maintenance only regulates the parties’ rights and responsibilities during their separate living while still being officially married. Their legal relationship is not terminated, and they can reunite anytime.

While the processes are similar, minor procedural differences still exist. Firstly, there is no 6-month residency requirement, so you can file for separate maintenance at any moment, no matter how long you have lived in Georgia. However, the petition must be filed in the county where the defendant lives or where they are found if they are not a resident. Secondly, there is no option for service by publication, so the defendant must be only personally served with the papers.

The decision of which way to choose is deeply personal, and each couple must decide which option is more suitable for them. So, when contemplating separation vs divorce, consider your family situation and reasons for living apart and the possible consequences of either outcome. Weigh pros and cons reasonably to understand their impact on your and your children’s future.

Why a Separation Instead of Divorce?

People choose separation maintenance in Georgia over divorce when they do not want to end their marriage permanently. Still, such a decision may be caused by a variety of personal, religious, or financial considerations.

The main reasons for living separately instead of dissolving the marriage are uncertainty and hope for reconciliation. When faced with a relationship crisis, some couples may file for divorce at once without even trying to discuss the issues, while others have reasonable doubt and do not rush to act recklessly. Indeed, it may be just a temporary crisis, and loving feelings will soon get the upper hand, straightening things out. Therefore, they choose to take a temporary break to see if they can do without each other or if they can still mend their marriage. For them, separate maintenance is a rescue option if they have any chance for reconciliation.

Deeply religious people may opt for separation if their faith condemns or even forbids divorce. Separate maintenance in Georgia gives spouses freedom from traditional marital obligations and allows them to live separately while still legally married, thus not breaking the sacred canons of their religion. At the same time, not religious but personal beliefs and values may also prevent people from divorce if they stick to some conventional moral norms and prefer to avoid social stigma.

Financial considerations are also important when choosing separate maintenance over divorce. When a couple ends their marriage, spouses most likely lose certain tax, healthcare coverage, pension, military, and other benefits. Staying officially together and maintaining a legal marriage can secure a better financial future for them and their children. The benefits of legal separation in Georgia include:

  • Ability to file taxes jointly, securing tax benefits;
  • Eligibility for the spouse’s healthcare insurance coverage;
  • Ability to get social security benefits due to 10-year requirement;
  • Eligibility for the spouse’s military benefits.

Do not think that you have to be separated before divorce in Georgia. State laws do not set any separation period before filing for marriage dissolution. Moreover, you can either terminate your separate maintenance and live as a married couple again or file for divorce if you want to end the marriage at any moment. Yet, you cannot file a petition for separate maintenance if there is a pending action for divorce.

Reasons for a Divorce Instead of Separation

Since Georgia divorce laws presuppose total and permanent termination of the marital relationship, such a perspective becomes the primary reason for people who wish to cut all ties with their spouse for good. Again, each couple may have their own considerations for such a decision if they see more advantages in marriage dissolution.

People choose divorce over separate maintenance when they are 100% sure they want to end their marriage. Some couples are tired of constant conflicts and fights when love turns to hatred, making it unbearable to maintain any relationship, even in the distance. Others realize that it was a mistake to get married and that they both will be much happier if they live separate lives in other relations. The worst scenario, of course, is the presence of abuse and domestic violence, which must be stopped immediately.

Whatever the reason is, divorce gives spouses complete legal and financial independence from each other and total control over their lives. While they may still be tied by certain child and/or spousal support and custodial obligations, they become two separate individuals free to make their own medical, financial, and legal decisions and marry someone else. Yet, it is necessary to weigh all the pros and cons of separation and divorce before making the final decision to avoid any adverse consequences.