What Happens In A Marriage Separation?

I sometimes hear from people whose spouse is insisting on a marital separation.  The folks reaching out are understandably very reluctant about the separation because they don’t know what to expect.  Most people haven’t been separated before, so they can’t anticipate what their life might look and feel like while they are separated.

Someone might ask, “what happens during a marital separation?  My spouse is insisting upon one because he says he’s not happy and he wants to see what living alone feels like.  I’ve never been separated and I’ve never personally known a couple who have gone through a separation.  So what happens during it? Do you have to split your assets? What happens with the kids? Does your spouse date other people?  Is it basically just like being divorced?”

I’m not an attorney, so I can’t speak about legal implications.  Some couples do opt for a legal separation where assets are dealt with.  You would definitely need to consult with an attorney about that.  Other couples just live apart for a time without addressing the legalities.  My husband and I did this, mostly because the hope was that we would reconcile and that it would be premature to split assets.  Everyone is different in this regard and it’s always a very good idea to make sure you are clear on how your spouse intends to approach this in order to protect yourself.

As far as what happens with the kids and with dating, that varies amongst couples also.  In my observation, many couples are very open to reconciling and they hope that they can eventually work things out.  If they wanted a divorce, they simply would have filed for divorce rather than trying a separation first.  To that end, many separated couples don’t date other people because ultimately, they want to eventually reconcile with their spouse.  I do find that the longer a separation lasts, the more likely it is that one or both of the spouses will date other people.  Whether or not you will date is DEFINITELY something that you should discuss with your spouse.  It can be tough and awkward to have these conversations, but doing so is much better than being surprised or disappointed later.  You can simply say something like, “I want to be very clear that I don’t intend to date other people during the separation because I still consider us married.  I hope that you feel the same way.  Can we agree on this?”

As far as the children, most couples try to do what is best for their children.  In other words, they try ensure that each of the spouses have open and unlimited access to the kids because most experts agree that the best thing for children is to have liberal access to both of their parents.  Frankly, having kids can be beneficial during a separation because it ensures that you have regular contact with your spouse, which can be extremely important.

There are a million little details that will need to be discussed ahead of time.  Again, these can be a hard conversations to have, but I promise that it is better than sitting in your home alone and then wondering how things are going to work because you didn’t iron out the details.  Before your spouse actually leaves, you want to clarify things like how the bills will be paid, whether your spouse will still contribute with maintenance on the house, how childcare is going to work, and how often you will see or call one another.  You also want to ask yourself if you will pursue counseling or self help so that you can hopefully reconcile in a healthy way.

Separations are very individual.  Some are short because the couple misses one another and decides that they are definitely happier together than they are apart. Others linger for much longer.  Statistically speaking, the longer the separation lasts, the less chance for a reconciliation.  But there are always exceptions.  You sometimes see short separations which lead directly to a divorce or you see couples who were separated for years suddenly reconcile.   Some couples are cordial during a separation but sometimes, it can turn ugly.  Sometimes there are misunderstandings and other times, communication actually improves when people realize that it’s important to be clear.

Honestly, separations are as unique as the couples themselves, but one thing seems constant – the more details that you can agree to BEFORE the separation happens, the better off you are.  And if you can agree to open and regular communication and meetings, this will increase the chances that you’ll be able to reconcile and decrease the chance that you will drift apart or assume the worst of one another. It also helps to try to remain cordial and open when you communicate.  You want to make things better, not worse.

Unfortunately, my husband wanted to try a sort of “wait and see” approach during our separation.  Although we did agree on some things, there were other things which he would not commit to.  This made me a bit insecure and contributed to things not going as well as they could have during our separation, which dragged on for way too long.  I finally found some strategies to speed things along, but I’d highly recommend ironing out as many details as possible because of this. You can read more at http://isavedmymarriage.com

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