In some states, a married couple who no longer want to live together can legally separate as an alternative to filing for divorce. Georgia law does not recognize legal separation, but it does offer a divorce alternative called separate maintenance.
What is separate maintenance and how does it work?
Separate maintenance makes it possible for a separated couple or a family court to resolve custody issues and determine any awards for alimony or child support without the couple filing for a traditional divorce. Separate maintenance works similarly to traditional divorce, but when the process is complete, the two spouses are still legally married, even while living separate lives.
To file for separate maintenance a couple must meet three conditions:
- Must be legally married
- Neither spouse filed for divorce
- Living separately
Difference between separate maintenance and traditional divorce
The primary difference between separate maintenance and traditional divorce is that a judge can not divide or award property in a separate maintenance claim. If a couple wants to split their marital assets, they must file for divorce.
Even though the law does not recognize legal separation, a couple who are married, but living separately, may benefit from drafting a separation agreement. This document details the terms of the separation, including any custody arrangements, spousal support or child support they have agreed upon. The document also specifies how the couple will share the marital property.
Separate maintenance may be an option for couples who wish to avoid filing for divorce for religious reasons or because they want to attempt a reconciliation. For others, it may serve as a bridge to a traditional divorce.