relationships Mandy Kloppers

Legal Separation vs Divorce: What’s the Difference in Georgia?

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Divorce isn’t for the weak and the meek. Many couples liken untying the knot to having a death in the family.

Think carefully about your decision before getting a divorce or separating from your spouse in the state of Georgia. You need to understand the differences between legal separation vs divorce.

Here is an overview of what it means to get a divorce vs legal separation.

What is Legal Separation?

In the state of Georgia, you can file for legal separation often as an alternative to filing for divorce. But this isn’t a replacement action for divorce.

Separation creates distance from your spouse while you decide whether to make a permanent lifestyle change. The official legal term for separation in Georgia is a separate maintenance action.

These actions are relatively uncommon in Georgia compared to that of divorce filings. There are quite a few gray areas in the law that could leave you unprotected later during your divorce proceedings.

Here are some things that might come with your separate maintenance action in Georgia.

Child Support

Georgia courts are proactive in making sure children are taken care of while spouses deal with their issues. The action won’t specifically require ‘child support’ as it would with your divorce paperwork, but there are clauses that ask a spouse to pay the other spouse temporarily.

A permanent and final amount for child support isn’t given until after a divorce is finalized. This amount supersedes any amount received during your legal separation.


The amount you pay your spouse to maintain their lifestyle while you were together is called alimony. Typically the spouse that receives alimony is the one who didn’t work or made significantly less than the head of household.

Your legal separation includes a temporary order for alimony if it’s appropriate for your situation. Again, this amount won’t transfer to your divorce.

You’ll have to start the process over again once you decide to file for divorce.


It’s important for parents to have a plan for custody during the separation process. The court helps couples in Georgia decide custody rules while they live apart.

One parent will likely be awarded custody as part of the separate maintenance action, but it won’t be titled ‘child custody’ since it isn’t a permanent situation.

Parents might be surprised to learn this if they didn’t request custody in their filings. But this is an automatic part of the process in Georgia.

The court decides what happens to the child or children for the length of your separation. Unlike divorce, you can’t petition for specific scenarios regarding the visitation and scheduling of the children.

It’s best to avoid filing for a separate maintenance action unless you want an automated legal decision made about your children. If you’re looking for great legal alternatives, read more now.

Legal Separation vs Divorce

The biggest difference between a divorce and separating from your spouse is that Georgia won’t divide your property. You and your spouse have to decide how to split up your property while you’re separated.

During a divorce, all of your joint possessions, and some that aren’t joint, are included in the division of assets. The process is called the division of marital property.

Your attorney helps you decide what is considered marital property during your divorce proceedings.  Divorce offers the best protection against property disputes if you and your spouse aren’t on the same page.

When Does Legal Separation Make Sense?

Some couples opt for the informal separation process when they want to meet the 10-year requirement for social security benefits. This requirement states that any marriages that last over 10 years entitle a divorced spouse to the social security benefits of their spouse.

You might also decide to skip or delay divorce if you want to continue receiving health benefits under a spouse’s healthcare plan. Employers aren’t obligated to cover an employee’s former spouse in an insurance policy.

For this reason, couples might remain on one policy until each person can afford his or her own plan.

Should I File Any Paperwork?

Unless you’re sure about getting a divorce in the state of Georgia, it might be wise to think twice about filing a separate maintenance action. Unlike other states, it’s a relatively informal process that makes claims that aren’t set in stone.

For example, if a spouse passes away during a separate maintenance action there could be confusion about how to divide your marital assets. It’s open to the judge’s interpretation of the law when deciding what you get to keep and what belongs to your spouse’s estate.

There are also other gray areas that make separate maintenance actions less ideal than divorce like the lack of protection if you want to keep living in your home. You can do your own informal separation by making an agreement with your spouse.

When to Get a Divorce

Divorce is the top solution when you’re looking to call it quits with your spouse. Legal separation vs divorce isn’t a comparison in the state of Georgia where many of the separation rules are unclear or temporary.

You’ll be legally protected during a divorce proceeding and have the option of negotiating with your partner to come up with an amicable agreement. With the separate maintenance action, one or both spouses can end up with a raw deal that can be expensive to undo.

Consider meeting with a mediator to help you resolve your issues instead of running to the courts first to establish your separation. For more information and tips, visit our blog for updates.


Mandy Kloppers
Author: Mandy Kloppers

Mandy is a qualified therapist who treats depression, anxiety, OCD, PTSD, trauma, and many other types of mental health issues. She provides online therapy around the world for those needing support and also provides relationship counselling.

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