Some states refer to legally ending a marriage as “dissolution of marriage.” Georgia still refers to this process as “divorce.” However, the terms mean the same thing.

Some states recognize a legal separation, but a legal separation is different from divorce or dissolution of marriage. With a legal separation, the spouses do not want to live together anymore but are not ready for a divorce. A separation addresses the same issues as a divorce but the parties are still legally married.

Georgia does not recognize legal separation. However, Georgia family laws do provide for an action for separate maintenance. Separate maintenance allows the spouses to resolve all issues and live separately and apart without dissolving their marriage.

What is a Separate Maintenance Action in Georgia?

Either spouse may file for separate maintenance. The spouse seeks to resolve all issues that would be resolved in a divorce, such as child custody, spousal support, child support, and property division. The only difference from a divorce is that the parties remain legally married.

Why Would a Couple Choose Separate Maintenance Instead of a Divorce?

You would assume that separating spouses would want to end the marriage and move on with their lives if they want to live apart. However, some individuals may have one or more reasons for wishing to remain married. They might not want to live together, but they may want to continue some of the benefits that are only available to legally married spouses.

Some common reasons people choose a separate maintenance action instead of divorce include:

  • The spouses want to continue to file joint tax returns
  • The parties want to continue to be on each other’s health insurance policies or share expenses for one health insurance policy
  • The individuals wish to maintain inheritance rights or rights to certain benefits, such as disability or retirement benefits
  • The parties hold religious beliefs against divorce
  • The spouses want to explore counseling and leave the door open to a possible reconciliation
  • The parties do not want to divorce because of their children
  • The spouses have cultural or social reasons for remaining married
  • The parties are protecting marital assets

There could be other reasons why a couple might want to pursue a separate maintenance action instead of a divorce. If they choose to divorce, they will lose any exclusive benefits enjoyed by spouses. 

When Should a Spouse Seek a Divorce?

A divorce ends the marriage legally. There are benefits and reasons why a spouse might prefer a divorce instead of an order of separate maintenance.

Reasons why divorce would be better than a separate maintenance action include:

  • A person wants to get remarried
  • A spouse wants to ensure they are no longer financially or otherwise responsible for the other spouse’s actions or decisions
  • There is a history of abuse or domestic violence 
  • The other spouse has expressed clearly and specifically that the marriage is over
  • A spouse desires to move to another state and begin a new life

Decisions regarding divorce and separate maintenance can be confusing. It can help to meet with a Lawrenceville divorce lawyer to discuss the specifics of your situation. 

A family lawyer can help you identify the primary issues that need to be addressed. An attorney explains your legal options and rights and then discusses the pros and cons of each option to help you decide what is best for your situation.

How Do I Obtain a Divorce in Georgia?

If you wish to proceed with a divorce, beginning a divorce action is the same as beginning a separate maintenance action. First, you file your petition for divorce with the court. Then, the petition is served on your spouse, who has 30 days to respond to the petition.

Georgia has 13 grounds for divorce. A “ground” is a legal cause of action for ending the marriage. The most common ground cited by most people is irreconcilable differences (no-fault).

If you and your spouse agree to the terms of the divorce, you may proceed with an uncontested divorce. A hearing is scheduled, and the attorneys present the agreement to the court for approval. Uncontested divorces are the quickest and least expensive way to end a marriage in Georgia.

If you and your spouse have disputes over the grounds for the divorce or other matters related to the divorce, the matter proceeds as a contested divorce. Each party engages in discovery to gather information and evidence. 

You may engage in mediation or negotiation to settle the disputes without going to trial. However, if you and your spouse cannot agree, the matter goes to trial. Uncontested divorces can be lengthy, costly, and emotionally devastating. 

If you have questions about divorces or separate maintenance actions, you can explore all your options by seeking legal counsel from a family law attorney.