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The Marriage Separation Guide: What You Should Know

A couple going through a marriage separation, hugging as they say goodbye for now.

If you’re married, you’ve been in a rough patch with your partner for quite some time and it’s just not working, you might be thinking about a divorce. But if you’re not sure you want to split up, and the rough patch seems like something you can weather, it might be better getting a separation first. Many couples find they end up working things out and getting back together after spending some time apart, while others learn that they’re much happier being apart. But how does a separation really work? And how do you get one?

You can file for a separation from your spouse the same way you’d file for a divorce. And your reasons can be the same or similar to the reasons people file for a divorce—abuse, cheating, or conflict. You fill out a separation petition, then send it to the court.

You can also try separating on your own terms before making it official through a court. But, if you find you’re unable to agree on things like who’s going to live where, who will be with your children (if you have any), or financial matters, you might be better off going the official route.

A legal separation allows both of you to remain legally married, but with the freedom of living apart.

Know the differences between separation and divorce.
When you get a divorce, you won’t be legally married anymore, whereas you will be when you’re separated. There will also be differences when it comes to health care and other benefits, debts and liabilities, and property rights.

It’s also important to note that once a divorce is finalized, it can’t be undone, and the couple will need to remarry if they want to be legally reunified; whereas you can reconcile after a legal separation.

Have an honest conversation with your partner.
If you’re thinking of separating from your partner, you need to be upfront about it. They might be hurt, and they may not want the same thing, but they do need to know where your head is at. Talking about how you’re feeling might even lead to you to address problems you need to work on, and keep your marriage alive by compromising and changing so the two of your are more aligned.

A separation is a potential solution that will prevent the breakdown of your marriage, and help you find a way back to each other. So be sure to highlight this to your partner.

Most reasonable people will be understanding, and want to do what’s best for both of you. But if your partner is trying to convince you not to go through with it, but it’s what you definitely want, keep in mind that you have a legal right to go through with it.

Understand the legal stuff.
Remember, each state has different laws, so it’s important you find out what yours are and what you need to do to get a legal separation. Certain documents will be vital, while others may not be—so do your research.

Each state also has a different law regarding property and debt division. If you need any extra advice on this or you’re unclear on anything, it might be worth seeking out a local family law attorney to help you understand the consequences of a legal separation or a divorce.

Be clear on your rules.
Each couple is different, and will come up with a suitable arrangement for their separation. But it’s vital you’re a part of setting those rules, and clear on what they are. It can also be good to set an end date for your separation where you make a decision on whether you’ll get back together and give things another go, or opt for a divorce.

You’ll also need to work out various things like where your children will live, how often they’ll visit the parent they don’t live with, where the both of you will live, how to divide up money or belongings, and whether you’ll be able to afford to stay in your house after your partner leaves.

If a court has any inkling that both parents will be able to resolve things, they won’t make the decision about whom a child lives with. But if you’re worried about your children’s safety in any way, you should go to court.

See a therapist together.
As soon as you decide to separate, it’s worth seeing a therapist together if you want to reconcile with your partner, and continue your relationship. Even if the chances of this are small, solo therapy sessions will be great for your mental health, and help you through what might be a stressful or painful time.

Remember: you’re still married!
The law is the law, so it’s important to remember that even though you’re separated from your partner, the both of you are still legally married.

If you’ve been feeling unhappy for a while in your relationship, but would like to hopefully work things out and get back together, a separation might be the right answer for you. Take some time to think about how you’re feeling, and what your heart is telling you to do. Then be brave, and take the next steps.

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