The Dos and Don’ts of a Separation

Much like the divorce process, separation has its own sets of financial and emotional expectations along with its own set of laws that vary from state to state. Many people don’t take the time to fully understand how separation works nor do they take the process as seriously as they should.

By learning about the dos and the don’ts of divorce, you’re more likely to be in better financial standing, on better terms with the judge, and are better equipped to make the best decision for you and your family.

Do: Understand the Difference Between Divorce and Legal Separation

Some couples seek a legal separation rather than a divorce for religious, financial or a myriad of other reasons. A legal separation means that the parties’ decision to no longer live together as husband and wife is governed by the terms of a written agreement. That agreement provides the details of the new relationship. It can include (when applicable) the terms of child custody, child support and alimony, or separate maintenance.

A Complaint for Separation or Separate Maintenance, while similar to a complaint for divorce, does not include a claim for divorce or equitable division of assets. While this may work for those religiously opposed to divorce, I recommend that if the marriage has truly failed, it is better to seek a divorce.

Do: Learn Your State’s Divorce Laws

The laws regarding separation vary depending on the state in which you are filing. For example, some states require you to live separately (although this is usually not pursuant to the terms of a written agreement) for a certain amount of time before you can file for divorce. Georgia doesn’t require any period of separation before being granted a divorce. Often, I use the date the divorce complaint is filed as the date of separation. Be aware if you need to seek a formal separation with distinctively separate living arrangements, as opposed to just undergoing an informal separation, in your state.

Don’t: Have Sex with Your Spouse

Having sex and seeking a divorce are incompatible. When you file for separation, you are stating that you no longer intend to have sex with your spouse. If you do have sex with your spouse after you have filed for divorce and that information becomes known, your case will likely be dismissed and you will be required to start over.

Don’t: Break the Status Quo

Whether a party chooses to move out or not during divorce proceedings, that party is still required to continue the level of support in which he or she has historically provided for the other spouse and any children. It is also a mistake to empty joint bank accounts, close credit cards or cancel insurance policies. Trial judges don’t take kindly to parties who try to create a financial burden for the other spouse. The status quo also needs to extend to the children. If one party moves out, that party still needs to be allowed to visit with the children.

For more information on the dos and don’ts of separation, contact your attorney on how to best proceed.