Why Not a Divorce?
By Leslie O’Neal
Despite claiming that her marriage is irretrievably broken, former “Medicine Woman” star Jane Seymour appears to be in no real hurry to end her marriage to her husband of 20 years, James Keach. On Monday, October 28, Seymour filed legal separation proceedings in L.A. County Superior Court. According to her pleadings obtained by E! News, she identified the date of separation as “TBD”. Seymour and her husband first announced back in April that they were separated and had been for several months. This begs the question, if Seymour believes the marriage is irretrievably broken, what is the benefit of filing a legal separation instead of a divorce?
In Georgia, either spouse is entitled to pursue a legal separation action without formally requesting that the marriage be dissolved. However, there are very few practical benefits to pursuing legal separation. A legal separation lawsuit is often just perceived as delaying the inevitable because if the proceeding is pending and either party separately files for divorce, the entire legal separation proceeding is subject to immediate dismissal. In other words, the parties must essentially start over, without regard to the time, money, and emotional energy they have applied to legal separation lawsuit.
One common reason that legal separation lawsuits are pursued as a short term solution is if the party initiating the action does not yet meet Georgia’s basic jurisdictional requirement for seeking a divorce. Georgia law requires that the party initiating a divorce case be a resident of the state of Georgia for at least six (6) months preceding the filing of the divorce complaint, whereas legal separation lawsuits do not have this same requirement. In some cases, the parties cannot meet this six (6) month threshold before they are in need of relief from the Court, often in the form of a temporary order governing child support, spousal support, parenting time, and/or exclusive use and possession of the marital home.
There are a few limited circumstances where a formal, legal separation might be an attractive long term option. For example, a couple who is legally separated can still file their tax returns jointly. Additionally, one spouse can continue to be eligible for the other spouse’s health insurance even if there is a legal separation. And of course, some couples do not believe in divorce for personal or religious reasons, and would rather not ever pursue a complete dissolution of their marriage. If both parties are content with a legal separation as a long term solution, they can negotiate or litigate nearly all issues that are traditionally negotiated and litigated in a divorce case.
Many of these circumstances presume that both parties are content with staying married to one another, at least on paper. However, given the current popularity of dating websites and the relative ease in communicating these days, it’s highly unusual to find a situation where neither party desires to move on with his or her life and possibly remarry. And while it remains unclear whether Jane Seymour and her husband will ever file for divorce; given that Seymour is a former Bond girl, she’ll probably be tempted to get back on the dating scene eventually.