Many couples that are struggling with whether or not to get a divorce will decide to enter into a legal separation, also known as a trial separation. This essentially means that the two people are still married legally, but are technically separated. The spouses will generally live in different homes and live according to a court order of set rules. Some people believe that legal separations are a successful way to bring two struggling spouses closer together while others believe it only hurts relationships. If you are struggling with your marriage and are looking for a solution without resorting to divorce, a legal separation might be the most ideal option.
A legal separation is designed for people who do not want to end their marriage for one reason or another, but are having enough problems that they feel the need to separate. Instead of completely ending the marriage, a legal separation will give each spouse some space to think over the situation, experience independent life again, and decide where to move on from there.
Any legal separation inherently implies that there is a chance, even if it is just a remote possibility, that the separated spouses may reconcile and come back together in a happy marriage. This possibility is part of the appeal of a legal separation. When couples are struggling to make a decision about a divorce, a legal separation can push them to see the truth they might have been ignoring.
With every legal separation comes a separation agreement. The separation agreement is basically a contract between the husband and wife that states the rules and regulations for their separation. The separation agreement will aim to settle issues involving child custody, property, debt, visitation rights, taxes, etc.
It is important when drawing up your separation agreement to realize that, if the agreement works well during your separation and you decide to go through with a divorce, that agreement can be transformed and used as the divorce agreement as well. In other words, the terms of your separation agreement may end up being the terms of your divorce, if you choose to proceed with one.
Reasons and Advantages
There are a multitude of reasons that different people choose to partake in a legal separation as opposed to a full-on divorce. One of the most common, logical reasons for entering a legal separation is to feel what an actual divorce would be like. Many spouses, during their time of separation, find new and exciting parts of themselves they either forgot about or never knew existed. While one man might feel his new sense of independence pushing him towards getting a divorce, the next man might notice the amazing things he took for granted about his wife. Each person will have a different experience during a legal separation and that is why there is an ongoing debate over their success.
Aside from the idea of a "test divorce," there are many different reasons people choose to get legal separations. More often than not, money will have some hand in the decision. With an absolute divorce comes a lot of financial complications that can end up costing both spouses more money in the long run. By avoiding a full-on divorce and getting only a legal separation, a married couple can maintain many of the benefits they receive for being married. These can include social security benefits, pension benefits, medical benefits, etc. Although neither spouse can re-marry while still in a legal separation of the original marriage, both spouses might believe the financial advantages of a legal separation are more important at the time.
Other reasons such as religion can also bring two struggling spouses to agree on a legal separation. If one or both of the spouses follow a religion that does not permit divorce, a legal separation is often the best solution. A trial separation can also occur when a couple wants a divorce but cannot be granted the official divorce immediately and must remain married for a certain period of time to sort out complications.
Issues with Legal Separation
Choosing to enter a legal separation is a huge step that should be preceded by months of consideration. A legal separation, especially if children are involved in the marriage, will cause a major rift within your life and the lives of your family. Before jumping quickly into a legal separation, consider and discuss some of the following issues.
One of the spouses in the marriage is required to find a new place of residence. In a legal separation, the two spouses should not live in the same household. Because this is one of the most common aspects of a legal separation, you must spend some time figuring out plans for a move. Decide which spouse will move and where they will move. Also, it is important to decide on a specific date for the move to occur. Keeping tasks like this on schedule will help avoid unnecessary emotional complications throughout the process. This is also an ideal time to discuss the level of access the moving spouse will have to the original household. Sometimes one spouse might change the locks of the original house and cause a disturbance when the other spouse finds out. Discuss the situation openly and try to think of any problems that might arise so you can create a solution beforehand. Planning ahead in this way, with a pen and a pad, will help to keep stress levels and arguments at a minimum.
If there are children involved, they should be discussed next (if not first). During any sort of marital separation, it is key to keep in mind that your life is not the only one being affected it. It is also important to remember that children have a hard time understanding the reasons and results of parental separations, so clear and consistent communication is essential. If your children are too young to understand the discussion, have it in private. It doesn't matter how you do it, as long you take time aside to plan.
Children are a massive responsibility and, as such, require a lot of care and attention. From dropping off and picking them up at school to cooking them daily meals, children cannot care for themselves. For this reason, it is essential that you and your spouse determine some kind of schedule or responsibilities list. Assign responsibilities that are reasonable and necessary, considering the entire situation and how each person will be affected by those decisions. By splitting up the responsibilities according to equality and convenience, you and your spouse can successfully separate without losing touch with your children.
Breaking the News
An aspect of separation people tend to underestimate is the actual revealing of the separation to friends and family. If a splitting couple does not coordinate how they are going to tell people they are doing so, awkward and emotionally troubling issues can arise. More importantly, it is imperative that you discuss the best, clearest possible way to explain the separation to your children.
Although it can be difficult to word such a huge piece of news, it seems best to acknowledge that straight-forward truth will make it easier. Breaking this hard news correctly depends on timing more than word choice. Discuss with your spouse when your situation will best allow for you both to present the news in a calm and comfortable manner.
Discussing your financial situation at the beginning of a separation is another imperative step. You have spent years collecting your paychecks together, paying bills as one entity, and enjoying the security of a second income. Now, however, your financial situation will change drastically. Even though you have not chosen to go though with a full-blown divorce, you should still discuss your finances.
For example, it is a smart idea to agree on making very few large purchases, if any. During this time of transition you will both be looking for security, especially financial security, and saving your collected money is key. Discuss your checking and credit card use, analyze your overall financial situation, and make sure you are both on the same page in order to move on independently into the future.
This is also when you should discuss bills and payments. Just because the relationship has stopped does not mean the bills will. Discuss the bills you are both required to pay as well as the bills that may need to move fully to one spouse or another's responsibility. Organizing finances and upcoming bills will only make the separation process less intense and less emotionally stressful.
Finally, but not least importantly, you should discuss your relationship and the ways you plan to work on it. If you have chosen to move towards divorce but only got as far as a legal separation, there is still hope to save your relationship. A major aspect of legal separations is counseling. Both spouses in a legal separation are obligated to put effort into attempts to reconcile the relationship. Although it might be difficult, you should have a discussion with your spouse about where you both separately see the relationship going and what can be done to create happy lives for both of you.
Have a small discussion about communication. How often will you and your spouse communicate during your legal separation? Although gaining independence and space is key during a separation, it is also important to maintain communication for the sake of your relationship and for the sake of the children that are involved.
It can also be very helpful to discuss the new relationships you or your spouse might be creating. Are you both going to date new people or keep working on your own relationship? Maybe you think you should do both. Either way, it is key to communicate openly about the situation. It will be difficult; you have been romantically involved for years now and discussing the possibilities of other relationships can feel daunting. This, however, is part of separation and must be discussed so that problems do not arise in the future that have not already been addressed.
Length of Separation
It can be difficult to look into the future and decide how long you should be in your legal separation, but it can be advantageous to try. If you do not have a set time to make a decision to end the marriage or continue the separation, your legal separation could last for years. By deciding on an approximate length for your legal separation, it can help you see the reality of the situation. If you and your spouse have been separated and things have not gotten better by the time you arrive at your approximate date, it might help you realize that things will not be getting better and you should move on with your life. This is not a deadline, but simply a date to set your sights and goals to.
Many people do not see the full effects of a legal separation until they are involved in one, especially when they realize their life is completely different in a marriage. The truth is that a separation can be much like a trial divorce in which the major aspects of your lives are divided and turned upside down.
Planning ahead and allowing for open, honest conversations will go a long way in simplifying your separation. Discuss each issue until each person involved understands and feels comfortable with the arrangements. When you and your spouse can agree on the terms of your separation before it occurs, it will run more smoothly.