By Jedidiah McKeehan

Unfortunately, a phrase that we hear all too often in this day and age is that a married couple is, “separated.”  And you may have thought to yourself, “did they go to the courthouse and get some designation, or is this just what it is informally called when a married couple is on the outs and no longer living under the same roof?”

99% of the time, what they are referring to is the latter.  Your next question may be, “Can you even be legally separated?”  The answer is, yes you can.  Pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated 36-4-102, it is possible to have a court deem a married couple to be legally separated in the state of Tennessee.

Why would such a thing exist?  My personal opinion is that it allows individuals who do not believe in divorce (usually for religious reasons), to go through all of the divorce steps while not actually getting divorced.

When you are legally separated you are still married and are unable to get remarried, however, you divide up all of the marital property when you get separated, just like in a divorce.

Likewise, you also enter a parenting plan dictating who will be caring for the children on what days and who will be paying child support to the other parent.

Finally, after the order signed by judge “legally separating” a couple has been in place for two years, either party can petition the court requesting that the legal separation be converted to a divorce and its basically automatic for the judge to divorce the already separated couple.

So, to recap, yes, legal separation is a thing.

Further, legal separation requires that the couple divide property, enter a parenting schedule and set up child support, all of the things that occur in a divorce.  However, you have NOT gotten a divorce, you have only become, “legally separated,” and are still married.

Jedidiah McKeehan is an attorney practicing in Knox County and surrounding counties.  He works in many areas, including criminal, personal injury, landlord-tenant, probate, and estate planning. Visit for more information about this legal issue and other legal issues.