What Is the Difference between a Legal Separation and a Divorce in Tennessee?

If you have reached the difficult conclusion that your marriage is no longer working, you have two legal options available to you in Tennessee — divorce or legal separation. Although most couples pursue a divorce when they wish to end their marriage, some couples prefer legal separation. Only an experienced Tennessee family law attorney can provide you with individualized advice based on your specific needs and wishes. A better understanding of the difference between a legal separation and a divorce in Tennessee may be a good place to start if you find yourself at the point where you know your marriage is not working.

When you get married you create a legal partnership of sorts. As a married couple you likely acquired both marital assets and marital debts. If the marriage ends, ownership of the assets and responsibility for the debts must be decided. If you have children of the marriage they must also be considered if you and your spouse no longer wish to remain in your “partnership”. These issues and more are why a married couple must go through the legal process of divorce or legal separation when the couple no longer wishes to remain together. Both a divorce and a legal separation can address these issues.

In fact, a legal separation can address all the same issues a divorce can, including things such as:

  • Division of marital assets and debts
  • Child custody and visitation
  • Child support
  • Spousal support/Alimony

The primary difference between a divorce and a legal separation is that with a legal separation the parties remain legally married, meaning neither party may remarry. There are numerous reasons why you might prefer to remain legally married, including:

  • Religious convictions
  • Personal beliefs
  • Need to retain insurance or other benefits
  • Need to remain married for retirement benefits
  • Estate planning reasons
  • Hope that the marriage can be saved eventually

Tennessee Code Section 36-4-102 (b) allows either spouse to file for a divorce after two years of a legal separation; although, the court may grant a divorce prior to the expiration of the two year period if the court decides to do so. When a legal separation is converted to a divorce the court typically uses the separation agreement when drafting a final divorce decree.

The decision to pursue either a divorce or a legal separation is a highly personal decision that should only be made after much contemplation and consultation with an experienced family law attorney.
If you are considering divorce or legal separation in the State of Tennessee,  consult with the experienced Tennessee family law attorneys at Bennett, Michael & Hornsby. Contact the team today by calling 615-898-1560 to schedule your appointment.

Stan Bennett
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