I’m Ready for a Divorce…Now What? A Discussion About Separation
Once someone makes the decision to divorce, one of the biggest concerns and rightfully so, is what will happen when the couple first separates. There is already so much stress and emotion involved in just the decision to end a marriage, but when you add in money, kids, and the house, it makes the process even more daunting.
Oftentimes a client will come in and say they were hoping to start the divorce process much sooner, but the idea of separating and the uncertainty of what their rights were and the logistics seemed too overwhelming. Helping them understand the process usually provides them with some relief.
First, let’s make it clear what separation is. In Pennsylvania, New Jersey and many other states, there is no legal process to go through to become “separated.” A couple becomes separated based upon their actions or statements to each other. You do not even have to be living in separate households to be considered “separated” for purposes of divorce. As I’ve discussed in a prior post, which you can read about here, under the law, a couple is deemed separated once there is evidence that the marriage is over. This evidence might be one person moving into a separate bedroom, segregating finances or one person expressly telling the other that the marriage is over.
The next step is to figure out what issues can be resolved, even on a temporary basis. If one of the parties is planning on moving out of the house, then it would be a good idea to try and agree on a custody schedule for the kids and how much support should be paid. Ideally, this is done before the person moves out of the house. Custody and support issues can be dealt with even without a divorce complaint being filed. So if the parties are not quite ready to take the step of filing for divorce, they can still enter into agreements or even to go court to deal specifically with custody and support.
What has become more common in recent years is the couple deciding to remain in the house together while the divorce process starts and sometimes even until it is finalized. This is often done because the couple is waiting for their house to be sold, or they want to save on expenses or the couple doesn’t want to uproot the kids in the middle of a school year.
For a couple remaining in the home together, it can be wise to enter into a “nesting agreement.” Under a nesting agreement, the children remain in the home and the parents take turns moving in and out on specific days or times. Essentially the parents are visiting the children instead of the children visiting the parents. This allows the children to get accustomed to their parents living separately without disrupting their school and activity schedules. In a nesting agreement, or even in a separate agreement if there are no children, the couple can also include how expenses at the home will be split, which might help limit the conflict in the household since finances are always a hot-button issue.
Because the circumstances surrounding everyone’s divorce and separation are different you should always consult with an experienced family law attorney to discuss the specific facts of your case.