A legal separation allows for spouses to maintain their marital status while adding security to the separation process and resolving matters that need to be arranged for the parties to actively separate. However, the state of Georgia does not currently recognize separations as a legal process and therefore you cannot file to be legally separated in the state of Georgia. But in Georgia there is still a legal process that can be used to allow for spouses to handle legal concerns while the spouses enter into a cooling and divisional period. Although the state does not offer a legal separation the state does offer a legal alternative [O.C.G.A. § 19-6-10] also known as a separate maintenance action.
A separate maintenance action is a legal proceeding that allows for the court to issue and order settling division concerns such as property division, child support and alimony even in the absence of a divorce action. The separate maintenance action is similar to a divorce in that it allows for the spouses to enter into an agreement to settle all possible issues; such as, who will pay current debts, amount of alimony, custody, visitation, and child support. Essentially any issue that may be settled through a divorce proceeding can also be resolute with a separate maintenance action. The primary difference between a divorce and a separate maintenance action is the fact that a formal divorce will dissolve the marriage between the spouses; whereas, the separate maintenance action allows for the marriage to remain intact. Due to the fact that this process does not dissolve the marriage and allows for the couple to still effectively separate it is an effective and beneficial option for spouses that need to maintain separate lives but desire to work on improving the marriage.
Additional benefits are financial and emotional security which makes the separate maintenance action one of the best alternatives to informal separation or divorce. The separation action allows for parties to develop a legally binding agreement that can help both parties settle financial obligations and allows for both parties to feel more emotionally secure in their division – all while maintaining the marriage. Alimony and child support can be awarded to appropriate parties and if any of the financial obligations are not adequately fulfilled then the court may issue an order requiring for the obligations to be fulfilled.
This particular separation maintenance action is a good alternative to couples with religious preferences that indicate that divorce may not be an option. In any case if the spouses determine at any time that they need to proceed with a more permanent divorce preceding the agreements maintained within the separation action can be transferred into the divorce settlement agreement. If the terms of the separate maintenance agreement are easily incorporated into a divorce settlement agreement then having a previous maintenance agreement prior to filing for divorce may make the process much more expedient and less costly. On the other hand if you intend to agree to something for a separation maintenance action and do not wish to be permanent or part of a possible future divorce action then you should make efforts to include your temporary reservations within the separation action.
Because separation is not formally legally recognized in Georgia any extramarital relations or other damaging actions that may take place in the event of a separation can be used against the guilty party in future divorce proceedings as fault for the termination of the marriage. For example separated spouses that engage in extramarital relations can be found at fault for adultery – which can lead to additional divorce cost to the guilty party. Adultery under these terms can also lead to differences in consideration by the court in determining an award of alimony, custody, and or asset distributions.
In the event that you believe that you wish to enter into a Separate Maintenance Action then it is important to consult with an attorney in order to assist you in developing and agreement that effectively takes care of your financial, emotional, and family needs. During this process it is important to remember that anything agreed to if not explicitly stated as temporary can become a more permanent stipulation in any future family or divorce related actions. Since these separate maintenance action does establish terms related to custody and visitation it is important to consult an attorney with prior family law experience that may be able to assist you in developing terms that are the most beneficial to the children in the separation situation. If you have any questions about a Separate Maintenance Action you are encouraged to contact us at 770-609-1247 to speak with one of our experienced Georgia divorce and family law attorneys.