Many couples who are having marital difficulties decide to separate for a while. Maybe they are running into some conflicts that they cannot seem to resolve while living under the same roof, but they are not quite ready to terminate the marriage. Oftentimes, they just need to relieve the stress and conflict that they are in the middle of, and they think that moving out and “taking a break from each other” might do the trick.
While a marital separation is not as final as a divorce, it is still a significant step in that direction. But unfortunately, a lot of couples enter into a separation without educating themselves on what to expect and creating a plan.
Separating is more than just spouses living at two different addresses, there are a lot of other issues that come along with it, with a lot of things that need to be worked out. Going into the separation without a plan can create bigger problems in the long run, especially if you end up being separated for an extended period of time.
Here are some of the most important things you need to know about and plan for if you are separating from your spouse:
- Decide where you are going to live. Are you going to stay in the marital home, or is your spouse going to? If you are the one who is leaving, you will need to arrange affordable housing on relatively short notice. This is not always doable especially with rental costs soaring in many areas, so you might need to consider staying with a friend or close family member for a while.
- Create a schedule for your kids. If you have children, they need to continue to have structure in their lives. If you and your spouse separate, “winging it” will not work well for them. First of all, you will need to figure out who the kids are going to live with. Once that is decided, you will need to come up with a parenting plan and visitation schedule that is structured around yours and your child’s schedules.
- Discuss how the finances will be handled. Your financial situation is going to change when you get separated, and it will not change for the better. A separation creates two households out of one with the same overall income, meaning double the housing payments. You will need to discuss joint financial obligations with your spouse, whether they will continue to be joint or separated, and who will be responsible for each expense.
- Make a plan for retirement assets. Many couples do not realize that if you do not create some type of agreement upon separation with your assets and debt obligations, they will continue to be joint while you are separated. This could be especially consequential with retirement accounts that often appreciate quickly in value as the account owner continues to contribute to them. If you are the owner of a retirement account, you will need to consider whether you want this to continue being a joint asset.
- Lean on your support network. It would be dishonest to say that you will not have some trying times when you are separated. Some days you will be confident in your decision to separate, while on other days, fear and uncertainty will cause you to second-guess yourself. When difficult days come, do not be afraid to lean on those closest to you who you can trust for the support you need. And if necessary, you can also reach out to a professional therapist to help you with deeper issues you may be struggling with.
Creating a Formalized Separation Agreement
The best way to tackle the issues that you and your spouse will be confronting with your separation is to create a formalized agreement. Agreements like these are often worked out through a process called mediation. With the guidance of a neutral, third-party mediator, the spouses can create a peaceable and workable plan that covers all of the important matters that need to be addressed.
Some couples remain separated for several years, and if that ends up being the case for you, you will be thankful that you took the time to create and formalize the ground rules of the separation in advance. If your separation leads to a divorce, this agreement can also provide the general framework for what the divorce settlement will look like.
Keep in mind also that a separation is not always the end of the marriage. You could end up reconciling and moving back in together, which of course happens in some cases. Be open to this possibility (if it still exists) as you explore the possibility of starting a new life as a single person.
Lastly, remember that whether your separation leads to a divorce or reconciliation, working together with your spouse to develop a formal plan will help foster a healthier relationship (with your spouse) in the long run. This is a great outcome for everyone involved, especially your children.
Contact AMS to Learn More About Separation Agreements
If you and your spouse are separating and you have not yet worked out a formal agreement with them, Advanced Mediation Solutions (AMS) is here to help. We will be happy to speak with you to provide further details on the mediation process and how you can use it to get your house in order during your separation. To get started, message us online or call our office today at (856) 669-7172. We look forward to serving you!