In order for a trial separation to work well, you need to agree on some ground rules.
Here’s a list of issues you and your spouse might want to think about as part of your informal plan for separation:
- Who is moving out? Where? When?
- What access will the spouse who is moving out have to the marital home? If you’re trying to avoid changing the locks, you might try this simple understanding: the spouse who is moving out may retain a key or have access to a key if needed. He or she will agree that he or she will never enter the marital home without knocking first. If no one is home, he or she will enter only in an emergency and will leave a message on the answering machine or on a bulletin board explaining that they were there and describing exactly what they did. Several of my clients have used this understanding successfully.
- Where will the children spend what time? How will they get from one place to another? Who will take them to school and pick them up? Under what circumstances may the children leave town?
- When and in what way will you tell the children?
- When and in what way will you tell parents? family members? friends? Other adults?
- Who gets access to which bank accounts? For what purpose can you use the money? (Note: depending on your level of trust in each other, you don’t need to make the legal division now if you trust each other. Just make sure you have a good clear understanding about who will use what money and for what purpose.)
- Who gets to use which credit cards? For what purpose can each of you use which card(s)? What limits do you agree to place on the use of each card?
- What consequences will flow if one of you violates the agreement?
- Who will pay what bills?
- Will one of you pay support to the other? If so, should you agree in writing to the support so you can treat it as alimony for tax purposes?
- Will you both agree not to sell any major assets, make any extraordinary purchases, or make any major withdrawals from family accounts without consulting with the other?
- How will you communicate with each other? Will you meet in person? How often? Will you talk by phone? At work or at home? By fax? By e-mail? Will you communicate only through an intermediary? Who is the intermediary, and how will each of you communicate with him or her?
- What freedoms will each of you have to form new relationships? Are you free to date? To be seen dating in public? To be affectionate in public? To have sex? To have company spend the night?
- What kind of sexual relationship will the two of you have? If you’ve agreed not to have any intimate relations with each other, what assurances does each of you need, and what assurances does each of you have, that you will both be faithful to this agreement?
- If you have not agreed not to have sexual relations with each other, how will you avoid pregnancy? Transmission of disease?
- What efforts are you making to address the problems in your marriage? Counseling? If not, what? If one of you is not willing to go to counseling, are you sure you don’t need to just get a divorce?
- What commitments is each of you making to continue counseling? I recommend you commit to at least six sessions. Counseling almost never does any good in a troubled marriage without causing pain. Almost invariably, one of the spouses pulls back from counseling when it starts to hurt (read that, when it’s getting to the real problem).
- How often will you re-evaluate your separation? How?
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