According to this survey published by the Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, more than 50 percent of spouses that are separated believe that staying apart is an effective option for resolving their family issues and rebuilding a healthy relationship.
Couples can go through 2 different types of separation: A trial or informal separation or a legal separation that is completed according to a specific court procedure.
For those who are considering either type of separation and want to reach an agreement that works for everyone in their family, the answers to the following questions can provide more clarity.
Table of Contents
(click on a question to be directed quickly)
What is a Marital Separation or Healing Separation?
Why do couples choose to do a separation?
What are the goals of a Healing Separation?
How does a separation affect children?
Should we go to couples counseling to help us make a Separation Agreement?
Should we do a separation or just divorce?
What Is a Marital Separation or Healing Separation?
The legal resource LegalMatch explains that a marital separation occurs when a couple decides they want to legally separate and live apart, often while considering a divorce.
During this period, both partners also have a distinct goal of working on their personal growth and rebuilding a loving relationship.
It’s important to understand that not all separations are formal legal processes. Many couples do informal separations. This means that they decide to live apart from each other, for a period of time, to help create some distance. They use this distance to give themselves time to think about the future of the marriage.
Some also refer to this period as a “healing separation” or therapeutic separation. A healing separation is a specific period during which a couple separates and lives apart while working on their relationship.
Why Do Couples Choose to Do a Separation?
There are several reasons why a couple might choose a separation instead of jumping straight to a divorce, including the following:
- Healing from a severe injury to their relationship (infidelity, addictions, abuse, etc.)
- They want to see if they can work things out and need time to think and process
- They are working with a Couples Counselor who is suggesting one
- Religious beliefs
- Tax issues and other financial challenges
- Concerns about their children’s mental and emotional health
- Disagreements regarding asset separation, dependent custody, child support, etc.
For couples who need more time working through these obstacles, legal separation provides clear boundaries during this process. It also establishes responsibilities that both partners must meet.
Photo by RODNAE Productions from Pexels
What Are the Goals of a Healing Separation?
The primary goal of a healing separation, in most cases, is to essentially see if your marriage can be saved. Each partner works on their personal development, often while attending therapy sessions (both individual therapy and couples therapy).
During a marital separation, it’s also important for both parties to agree upon some specific parameters. They must create a separation agreement that works for both partners, as well as any children involved. The following are some factors that may need to be considered when drafting this agreement:
- Length of time: How long will the separation last? Will it be a long-term separation or a short-term separation?
- Living arrangements: Who will stay in the house and who will relocate?
- Finances: Who will handle the money and pay bills during the separation? (Working with a legal professional can be especially helpful when addressing money-related questions)
- Vehicles: Who will have access to which vehicles?
- Children: If there are children, how will time be split between both partners?
- Therapy: Marriage counseling with a licensed therapist who has years of experience helping couples through marital challenges is essential; Couples should consider how often they will go to therapy, whether they will only work with a marriage counselor, if they will seek individual therapy from a licensed professional counselor, etc.
Married couples going through a separation should also discuss and clarify some rules regarding dating. In general, a rule about dating others is recommended, but couples may also want to set rules regarding how often they see each other, what kinds of activities they do together, etc.
How Does a Separation Affect Children?
It’s common for children to react negatively when their parents go through a separation. This is true even if the separation is done with the intention of salvaging the marriage and relationship.
According to this study published by the journal Pediatrics & Child Health, children often regress following their parents’ separation. This regression may include the following symptoms:
- Increased irritability
- Increased demanding and non-compliant behaviors
- Challenges in social relationships
- Decreases in school performance
It’s normal for parents to feel troubled by their children’s reactions. They can minimize these symptoms, though, by letting their children know they are not responsible for their parents’ separation (children often assume it’s something they did that caused their parents to split up).
Parents should also do what they can to keep their children’s routines as normal as possible and let them know they are available to talk at any time. They may want to consider therapy with a child psychologist, too, to provide kids with a healthy outlet to talk about their feelings and express their concerns.
As for custody agreements during a separation, joint physical custody is often recommended whenever possible. Joint physical custody typically involves both partners equally sharing parenting decisions, with the children spending no more than 60 percent of their time (and no less than 40 percent) living with each parent.
Should We Go to Couples Counseling to Help Us Make a Separation Agreement?
In many cases, going to couples counseling and working with a therapist is recommended for people who are planning on going through a legal or healing separation.
Talking to a therapist can help both partners through the process of making a separation agreement. They’ll have an easier time setting clear boundaries for the separation period and making sure everyone is comfortable during this already difficult process.
It’s also important to work with a legal professional during this stage, too. A lawyer can ensure that all boxes are checked and no important details are left out. They’ll also help with the document filing process and keep everything above board.
Should We Do a Separation or Just Divorce?
It’s not always easy to tell whether it’s a good time to go through a legal separation and when it’s better to just get divorced.
According to the legal resource Legal Zoom, in some states, it’s legally required that couples separate before they can get a divorce. If this is the case where a couple lives, they’ll have no choice but to go through the separation process.
Setting legal requirements aside, some couples may also believe that their problems are too serious to be helped with a temporary separation. If both partners agree that they don’t want to work to try and fix the relationship, moving forward with a divorce may be better for everyone involved, including children.
Lee, C. M., & Bax, K. A. (2000). Children’s reactions to parental separation and divorce. Paediatrics & child health, 5(4), 217-218.
Sember, B. (2020). Legal separation vs. divorce. https://www.legalzoom.com/articles/legal-separation-vs-divorce
Wineberg, H., & McCarthy, J. (1994). Separation and reconciliation in American marriages. Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, 20(1-2), 21-42.
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