Legal Separation vs. Divorce: What’s the Difference?

legal separation vs. divorceDivorce is more meets the eye. 2.9 divorces occur for every 1,000 people in the United States. This number sounds small, but when applied to the population, it means that nearly one million couples have been divorced.

Yet many more couples are permanently and legally separated. When you are thinking about separating from your spouse, you need to consider legal separation vs. divorce.

What is a legal separation, and what types of separation are there? What is a divorce, and how does it compare to annulments? When is the right time to separate or divorce your spouse?

Answer these questions and you can pick the right form of separation for your needs. Here is your quick guide.

Trial Separation

A trial separation is a temporary break in your relationship. You and your spouse may need some time apart to decide what your next steps are or whether independent lives would work for you.

You and your spouse can live in separate residences. However, you are still married under the law. If you buy a piece of property during your separation, a court will regard that property as being owned by both you and your spouse.

You are not required to write an agreement with your spouse outlining rules for your separation. But it is a good idea to do so, especially if you have kids and/or a joint bank account. You can later use your separation agreement to develop your divorce agreement.

Sit down with your spouse and talk to them about what terms you want. If you don’t want to be in the same room as your spouse, you can ask intermediaries to work out the document for you.

A trial separation does not have to lead to permanent separation or divorce. You do not need to go to court to start a trial separation, and it can last as long as you want.

Permanent Separation

Permanent separation occurs when two spouses live apart from each other with no attempts to reconcile. It can occur after a trial separation, or it can occur without one.

Georgia law requires a couple to suspend “marital relations” so the spouses can divorce. This does not necessarily mean that one spouse must move out of the family home. You may sleep in another room, and you may avoid having intimate moments with your spouse.

You do not have to live a period of time separate from your spouse before divorcing them. As long as one of you has lived in Georgia for at least six months, you can apply for divorce whenever you want.

Legal Separation and Separate Maintenance

Unlike other states, Georgia does not recognize legal separation. However, it does allow for separate maintenance. You and your spouse live separate lives while remaining legally married, and each of you maintains your own assets.

Separate maintenance may be better than divorce in a few situations. Some religious traditions prohibit divorce, so separate maintenance allows for separation without violating religious customs. Separate maintenance permits one spouse to receive benefits from the other, so they can keep their health insurance and military benefits.

To apply for separate maintenance, you must submit documents to the court. You need to provide details about where your spouse is and why the separation is occurring. You must also describe how you will divide your marital property and whether you need financial support.

If you have not contacted a divorce lawyer yet, you should do so before you submit your documents. A lawyer can contact your spouse for you and check your paperwork to make sure all details are accurate.


Divorce is the formal dissolution of marriage. You will no longer be tied to your spouse according to the law, and you are free to pursue another relationship.

Making the decision to end your marriage can be difficult. Ask yourself a few questions before you decide if divorce is the right thing. If you feel indifferent, hopeless, and distant from your spouse, you should pursue divorce.

Once you apply for divorce, your separate maintenance will end. The process requires filing a legal complaint, and you must lay out the legal grounds of your separation.

An uncontested divorce occurs when both spouses want to separate and don’t have major issues to work out. They may have decided how to divide their property and handle child custody. Most uncontested divorces do not lead to court appearances.

In a contested divorce, a spouse does not want to separate, or the two spouses cannot settle on the terms of the divorce. This can lead to a court appearance. You should get a lawyer if you are going through a contested divorce.


Annulment is a special kind of divorce. Georgia allows a judge to annul a marriage if the marriage violates state law. One spouse may have been underage, or they may have been forced into the marriage.

Annulment renders a marriage void. In the eyes of the law, the marriage never occurred, and there are no legal ties whatsoever between the spouses. The state still requires legal documents for a judge to approve annulment, which takes time to process.

Because the marriage never legally occurred, neither spouse is eligible for alimony or child support. You can choose to divorce your spouse instead so you can get support.

Legal Separation vs. Divorce

Legal separation vs. divorce is tricky to navigate. You can start with a trial separation, which is an informal separation from your spouse.

Georgia does not offer legal separations, but it does have separate maintenance. You can live apart from your spouse and resolve issues between the two of you.

Yet you will remain married under the eyes of the law. You must get a divorce if you want to remarry. Annulments are only for marriages that violated Georgia laws.

Don’t go through a divorce alone. Blake and Detchemendy Law Firm serves the Augusta area. Contact us today.