Under Tennessee law, a legal separation is an option for married couples who do not want to live together but also do not want to get a divorce. Couples may have a variety reasons for choosing a separation over a divorce. Some couples do not want to divorce for religious reasons and others may want to retain benefits only available to married couples.
The process to obtain a legal separation is the practically the same as obtaining a divorce. A petition for a legal separation must be filed and served on the opposing party and filing fees must be paid to court. The parties may reach an agreement, or they may litigate before the court.
The grounds for a legal separation are the same as a divorce: irreconcilable differences and fault grounds such as adultery, abandonment or inappropriate marital misconduct to name a few. In an action for legal separation, a court has the discretion to divide marital property but could reserve that issue. If the court does divide the property pursuant to a legal separation, then that will be binding and any property acquired after a legal separation division of property will be separate property of the person acquiring the property.
Although the process is similar, the effect of a legal separation and divorce are very different. If you are divorced, then the bonds of matrimony are forever dissolved and both parties are free to marry again. If you are legally separated, you are still legally married to each other and you cannot marry someone else.
There may be a defined reason that parties desire a legal separation such as the continuation of health insurance benefits. Typically, after a divorce, one party may not provide insurance coverage through an employer for the other party, but health insurance may continue after a legal separation. Parties may also want to take advantage of tax benefits only available to married couples.
It is also important to remember that after two years, either party may convert the legal separation into a divorce and it does not require the agreement of the other party.
When contemplating the pros and cons of a legal separation versus a divorce for your circumstances, it important to consult with attorneys familiar with both processes. The attorneys at Held Law Firm are ready and available to assist you.
This article was written and produced by Melanie Hogg.