To file for divorce in Georgia, a couple must be “separated,” meaning they no longer have marital relations. While many American states offer legal separation as an alternative to divorce, Georgia doesn’t recognize this option. However, the courts do support separate maintenance, which is very similar in concept.
If married couples decide to separate without getting a divorce, they can remain in the same house together as long as they don’t share a room or engage in relations. So, while they may decide to continue to live together, all conjugal rights are suspended. Alternatively, they might choose to separate and live apart.
Georgia law states that the two parties will “live separate and apart” without any “interference, molestation, authority and control, direct or indirect, by the other as if sole and unmarried.” However, they may live wherever they choose.
The law also gives possible grounds for separation:
- By virtue of a mutual agreement – where there was no specific fault involved.
- Due to “misconduct” including adultery, domestic violence, excessive drug use, or abandonment.
There is no specific period linked to separation and when couples can file for divorce or separate maintenance, but a minimum of 30 days is recommended.
Why Separate Without Filing for Divorce?
Even if a marriage has dissolved, and there is no likely prospect of reconciliation, some couples opt to avoid divorce.
Sometimes this decision is taken for religious reasons, because remaining married affords them certain protections or benefits, or because they would like to raise their children in a home with both parents.
Separate Maintenance and Separation Agreements
Rather than separating informally, separate maintenance takes care of vital issues including marital property, shared debts, alimony, child support, visitation of minor children, and child custody. This involves a court order, and commonly a separation agreement, between the two parties. To qualify for separate maintenance in Georgia, at least one spouse must have lived in the state for at least six months before filing.
Whether a couple is planning to divorce or want to go the route of separate maintenance, it is usually a good idea to enter into a separation agreement. Ultimately, it is a binding document that indicates how the parties wish to proceed. Signed by both spouses, it also resolves any property or debt related issues, as well as those that involve a child or children born from the marriage.
Separation agreements can be very detailed and complex, and it is best to have an experienced Georgia divorce attorney draw it up for you.
If you live in Georgia, the attorneys at Waggoner Hasting Family & Collaborative Law firm can handle your separation maintenance case and draw up a separation agreement that will protect both parties.
There is absolutely no doubt that separate maintenance and a separation agreement will provide both emotional and financial security in the absence of a formal divorce.