(a) A party who alleges grounds for divorce from the bonds of matrimony may, as an alternative to filing a complaint for divorce, file a complaint for legal separation. Such complaint shall set forth the grounds for legal separation in substantially the language of § 36-4-101 and pray only for legal separation or for such other and further relief to which complainant may think to be entitled. The other party may deny the existence of grounds for divorce but, unless the other party specifically objects to the granting of an order of legal separation, the court shall declare the parties to be legally separated.
(b) If the other party specifically objects to legal separation, the court may, after a hearing, grant an order of legal separation, notwithstanding such objections if grounds are established pursuant to § 36-4-101. The court also has the power to grant an absolute divorce to either party where there has been an order of legal separation for more than two (2) years upon a petition being filed by either party that sets forth the original order for legal separation and that the parties have not become reconciled. The court granting the divorce shall make a final and complete adjudication of the support and property rights of the parties. However, nothing in this subsection (b) shall preclude the court from granting an absolute divorce before the two-year period has expired.
(c) Legal separation shall not affect the bonds of matrimony but shall permit the parties to cease matrimonial cohabitation. The court may provide for matters such as child custody, visitation, support and property issues during legal separation upon motion by either party or by agreement of the parties.
(d) Notwithstanding this section, a party who can establish grounds for divorce from the bonds of matrimony pursuant to § 36-4-101 shall be entitled to an absolute divorce pursuant to the provisions of this chapter.
Code 1858, § 2449 (deriv. Acts 1835-1836, ch. 26, § 19; 1841-1842, ch. 133, § 1); Shan., § 4202; Acts 1919, ch. 70, § 1; mod. Code 1932, § 8427; Acts 1963, ch. 283, § 1; 1967, ch. 284, § 1; T.C.A. (orig. ed.), § 36-802; Acts 1989, ch. 489, § 1; 1998, ch. 1059, § 2.