Legal Separation vs Divorce

A cat standing in between two adults

In the past couple of days I have coincidentally had three separate conversations about Legal Separation in Tennessee-- since it's on my mind, let's talk about it: What is it, why do it, what's the point?  Some thoughts:

  • If your spouse moves out of the house, and you're living separately, you are separated. You are NOT "Legally Separated."  A Tennessee legal separation is a designation that is granted by a court order. 

  • To obtain a legal separation in Tennessee, you must file a Complaint with the court, and you must state the grounds for legal separation, just as you would if you filed for a Tennessee divorce. If you have children, you will have to have a parenting plan and set child support. You will divide assets and liabilities, and possibly provide for spousal support as well.

  • If you are legally separated, you are STILL MARRIED. That means you can't marry someone else. That also means your spouse could still inherit upon your death. And if you don't completely divide all the marital property in the Decree of Legal Separation, any new assets you acquire are potentially subject to division in the eventual divorce.

  • If you go through the process and get a legal separation, in two years, either spouse can ask the court to declare the parties divorced.

Attorneys tend to advise that, barring other circumstances, a Tennessee legal separation is just like a Tennessee divorce: same attorney fees, same documents, same negotiations, same court hearings... without the same result. You go through all of that, but you're still married at the end of it. Why would you put yourself through all of that just to end up right where you are? Well...

A Tennessee legal separation can be a benefit if you need to live separately and provide for support or the division of property, but you want to remain married for some reason. One reason we see is that the parties' religion does not recognize divorce.  Another is that one spouse needs to remain on the other's health insurance because they have a health condition or otherwise find it unreasonable or impossible to get their own policy.  Or, if one spouse is in the military, a legal separation can also be a benefit, as there are considerations related to dependency status, retirement, and other benefits.

Get in touch to talk about Tennessee legal separation, Tennessee divorce, and what's best for your family. 

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