As Georgia divorce attorneys, we have seen firsthand the developing trend of couples opting for extended separation in lieu of divorce. In some instances, the desire to remain married, living in a state of separation, is the result indecisiveness regarding whether divorce is the correct path. In other instances, extended separation in lieu of divorce is utilized by those who do not wish to live in the same marital home as their spouse, but who do not wish to seek a divorce due to moral or religious reasons. However, in the overwhelming number of cases, the motivation to remain married is financial. There are many financial advantages to being married that may no longer be enjoyed by both spouses in the event of divorce, such as certain tax credits or deductions or one spouse’s health insurance coverage. In fact, for older couples or couples where one spouse has a preexisting medical condition, health coverage alone may be the motivating factor for remaining in a perpetual state of separation. Additionally, it is not uncommon for couples to remain married until the spouse who needs health coverage is eligible for Medicare or until the spouse would qualify to receive a share of the other spouse’s Social Security payment upon divorce.
Although remaining married, yet separated, may be the best option for some couples, it is necessary for any couple considering this option to take certain steps to protect their legal interests. First, if a couple decides to live in a state of extended separation, it is advisable that they initiate an action for Separate Maintenance. Georgia does not recognize the concept of legal separation, thus if the parties which to have their separated status recognized, they must do so by seeking an order of separate maintenance. This is especially important for spouses who need child support or alimony during the period of extended separation, as initiating a suit for separate maintenance is the only way to receive such awards absent initiating a divorce action. Additionally, couples seeking to live in an extended state of separation should also consider entering into a Post-nuptial or Separate Maintenance Agreement, settling issues such as child support, alimony, and estate matters.