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What is 'separate maintenance' in Georgia?

A few weeks ago, we discussed the fact that civil marriage, under most U.S. jurisdictions, is a legal contract between two parties. When discussing the issue of divorce in Georgia, or anywhere else for that matter, a question sometimes arises regarding some basic legal concepts. For example, often people want to know whether there is a state of separation of spouses that is not quite a dissolution of the marital contract, but still recognizes the parties are no longer living as a married couple. Some people refer to this as legal separation, having heard that term before. So, is there such a thing in Georgia?

While many states have done away with the idea of a legal separation that is short of divorce, there is a provision in Georgia law covering such a situation. The Georgia Code Annotated 19-6-10 provides that an action for separate maintenance can be filed if there is no divorce pending, but the parties are living separately or are in a state of bona fide separation. The latter part of that sentence may be interpreted to mean that, even if the parties are still living on the same premises, if they are no longer engaged in a marital relationship, such an action may be filed.

It should be noted that the statute above and the other that deal with this process don't appear to confer any separate legal status. It seems that it is simply a means for a party to file for alimony or child support even if no one has filed a petition for dissolution of the marital contract. There might be a couple reasons a couple might do this rather than filing for divorce. It could be that they have religious beliefs that prevent them from feeling right about dissolving a marriage. Another possible reason may be that one or the other of the couple, or the children, receive benefits that may be affected by an actual divorce decree.

In any event, whether you should file for a dissolution of a marriage or whether a petition for separate maintenance would apply to you is going to depend very much on your own particular circumstances. As the end of a marriage is generally fraught with emotional and economic pitfalls, anyone considering divorce may want to think about contacting an experienced Georgia family lawyer.

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