The decision to separate isn't easy.  It either initiates the end of your marriage or time apart from your spouse to determine if your marriage can be saved.  The possibilities and challenges are overwhelming.  It helps to know the general path you and your spouse will use to transition from your current relationship to reconciliation or divorce.

Should we separate?

There are three main reasons separating is a good idea.

1. Abuse or endangerment 

Your spouse is abusive or has endangered you or others. You should separate, speak with an attorney or family court clerk about the steps to initiate an emergency restraining order to protect your health and safety.  Once you obtain it, continue to seek a permanent restraining order.  Your divorce attorney can help you with that while he/she begins the process of your legal separation (if required) to initiate your divorce.  

2. Irreconcilable 

You have worked through all of the possibilities of marriage reconciliation and the marriage is deemed irreconcilable by one or both spouses.

3. Time to determine marriage outcome

You and your spouse are interested in obtaining therapy and wish to remain apart until the relationship improves or one or both spouses decide to end it.  This may be the best option to try following adultery, financial infidelity or some other unexpected issue that often induces divorce.   

Separation may also benefit couples whose relationship has lost it's luster.  Distance from each other may be necessary to regain mutual interest and desire.

What are the first steps to separating?

First, you should both agree on the reason and end goal for separating.  If you would like to separate for the purpose of reconciling, review the 2020 DMK Marriage Workshop and Hubby Wifey University.

If the purpose is to initiate divorce, it might be a good idea to review the 2020 Divorce Workshop and DMK His and Her Divorce Planners in order to get an idea of the process.

Speak with a local attorney to fully understand the process and laws of your state as they apply to your circumstances before you separate.  Determine if a legal separation is required for divorce and the requirements for such a separation. 

Some states require you file the separation in a court of law while others simply require proof that both spouses live in separate residences.  In doing so, if your separation is for the purpose of reconciliation and the plan fails, you will have had the opportunity to provide the time separated as the legal separation period, if required.  It also demonstrates to each spouse, each other's serious intent to divorce if efforts aren't made to improve.

What to know while in the process of separating?

If you are choosing to make these major changes, such as living in separate residences or parts of the home, then you should stick with your decision.  Back-and-forth separation doesn't give you or your spouse an opportunity to redevelop the relationship and/or provide the opportunity for each of you to live independent of each other to determine if either is happier alone.  

Get to understand all of the laws of your state with the help of a local attorney and your own general research.  It's important to understand all of the types of divorce available in your state, if your state is a Community Property or Equitable Distribution State and any case specific guidelines or laws you should know if you decide to complete the process.

You will want to be clear about a required separation period that may indicate you and your spouse must live in separate residences instead of separate parts of the home (if you are considering such a separation).  Some states have relaxed guidelines while others are very specific that the home has two separate residences/addresses; otherwise, the the spouses must live in separate homes altogether.

If you are interested in reconciling but reduce contact with each other by separating, your communication will continue to diminish.  Seeking a therapist who can guide your relationship to improve communication skills could help the marriage progress towards reconciliation or an improved relationship.  Otherwise the marriage could continue to move into worsened communication and eventually divorce.

Does the separation have to lead to divorce?

No.  You can live as a separated couple indefinitely.  This has positive and negative implications that may affect taxes, insurance and finances.  It also means you won't be able to remarry until you're officially divorced.  Some couples choose this due to religion.

Is it okay to date while separated?

Once you're separated the main problems with dating are as follows:

1. You make your current spouse upset and he/she makes negotiating a divorce a lot longer, more complicated and expensive.

2. Many states recognize an extramarital relationship that induced the end of the marriage to be marital misconduct and/or adultery (if a physical relationship occurred). 

If there is a physical relationship after separation with someone who induced the end of a marriage, it is often considered adultery.  In most states, it's best not to move in with this person (regardless if you started the physical relationship prior to separation) to avoid legal repercussions. 

Each state has their own guidelines regarding a physical relationship with someone who did NOT induce the end of the marriage that takes place after separation.  Many do not consider it adultery, but it may still negatively affect divorce proceedings for the spouse who engaged in the pre-divorce relationship.

Some states still consider adultery a crime, though the legal impact of the pre-divorce relationship (regardless if it is legally considered adultery) is usually more relevant to the division of assets/debts, support and custody arrangements.   

The legal consequences vary a great deal on the type of divorce you seek, whether your divorce goes to court, your state laws, your spouse's reaction and specific circumstances.   Consult an attorney in your state for legal guidance.

3. Morally speaking, it's still an extramarital relationship.  However, some divorces have legal issues that delay the dissolution while the emotional divorce is completed.  The decision to date is a personal one that only you and your spouse can determine based on your specific circumstances.  It may not be a mutual decision.

4. It’s important to think of the person you want to date.  A divorce can be an emotional and time consuming event.  It can be difficult to stay focused on developing a new relationship during such a stressful time in your life.  It can also cause your new love interest to have conflicted feelings.  It’s a good idea to take it slow and be honest with your new dating partner about your current circumstances.

If we choose to divorce, how long will it take?

Most divorces can be completed within 6 - 12 months.  However some divorces can take years.  The more you and your spouse work together on the settlement, the faster your attorneys or shared attorney can draft the paperwork and complete the process.  If you go to trial, the process is much longer, more expensive and [terms of divorce] decided by a family court judge.


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