Is separation just a pit stop on the way to divorce? Part Two

Posted on May 9, 2016 by Katie Carter

Last Friday morning, we started talking about separation. When are you separated? What does it mean to be separated? And, of course… Is separation even really a thing? Or is it just a pit stop on the way to a full fledged divorce?
Lots of women say to me that they want to try a separation, but they’re too afraid that it will mean that they’ve given up on their marriages. If their husbands suggest it, they worry that their husbands are ready to totally throw in the towel. It makes them panic, and they’re worried about the overall implications.
Well, I’m not going to sugar coat it to start off. There’s no question that a separation means that your marriage is on shaky grounds. But, that being said, I’ve seen plenty of marriages where they separate and eventually come back stronger than ever. It doesn’t always happen, but it happens fairly frequently in my practice. It probably happens even more often for people who are working with marriage counselors instead of attorneys. (Because, if you think about it, I probably see the people who are furthest down the road to separation, and the most seriously thinking about divorce as a possibility. I bet there’s a whole host of people who start out with marriage counseling or a trial separation without even talking to an attorney first.)
Of course, regardless of whether you ultimately hope to save or end your marriage, you may be worried about the long term outcome. You probably want to know what your legal rights are. Where can you even start to get that kind of information? Sure, you can do a Google search, but how do you know that the information you’re finding online is up to date, Virginia specific, and written by an attorney? How do you know that the information you’re getting is right? After all, you don’t just want what you’re reading to make you feel better (though ideally it certainly would); you want it to tell you the truth, so that you can begin to plan your future. You’re making choices right now—big ones. You want to be sure that you’re making them with all the information at your disposal.

I want to know more about my legal rights. Where should I start? Do I need to talk to an attorney?

You don’t have to talk to an attorney when you separate, but some women choose to. There’s a lot at stake in a divorce; in fact, it’s the biggest financial transaction in most adult women’s lives. (Think about it: everything is divided in divorce! It’s your house, your car, your retirement, and your kids, all divided at once!)
If you’re wondering about your rights, now is a good time to ask. It’s not like opening Pandora’s Box. It’s not like you’re going to find out something terrible that you can’t take back. In fact, for a lot of people, finding out what is involved in a divorce (and how things like the house and health insurance will be handled) drives people back together. It’s not like an “it’s cheaper to keep her” kind of thing so much as it’s a frank and honest assessment of the costs—which makes people want to try a little bit harder to make it work.
If you just want to get a little bit of information to start, consider attending one of our monthly divorce seminars. Each seminar is taught by a licensed and experienced Virginia divorce attorney, so you can be sure that you’re getting up to date, Virginia specific information straight from an attorney who is in a position to know. You’ll learn about how property is divided, what it means to be separated, what the different grounds of divorce are, and even how to actually get divorced (spoiler alert: there are a lot of choices!), plus you’ll be able to ask your questions to the attorney in the seminar.
We teach our monthly divorce seminars three times a month—twice in Virginia Beach, on the Second Saturday and Third Tuesday of the month, and once in Newport News, on the Second Saturday of the month. The Second Saturday seminars are in the morning, and run from 8:30am-10:00am. Our Virginia Beach seminar is at the Friends Meeting House at 1537 Laskin Road. Our Newport News seminar is at the Hilton Garden Inn, at 180 Regal Way, off of Victory Boulevard and next to Regal Cinemas. Our Third Tuesday seminar is in the evening (for all of those who can’t make early morning meetings) from 6:30pm until 8:00pm. Each seminar features all sorts of information you need to know about divorce, and also includes a brief speech from a local area therapist. They’re super comprehensive, and a great way to get started learning about the Virginia divorce process. (In fact, after you attend, you’ll know more than your husband—unless he’s a divorce attorney, too—and 99% of people in Virginia!) For more information or to find out about our next seminar date, click here.
Something specific keeping you up at night? Absolutely positively need a specific answer now? You may also wish to talk to an attorney one on one, and that’s fine too. If you want to talk to an attorney, we’re definitely here to help. Feel free to give our office a call at (757) 425-5200, and we can help you schedule a confidential one hour appointment with one of our divorce and custody attorneys. Want to know more about what to expect? You’re not alone. It’s scary to walk into a divorce attorney’s office. Find out more about what to expect in an initial consultation with us by clicking here.

If we decide we want to reconcile after our separation, what do we do?

If you and your husband decide that you want to reconcile, that’s great! You don’t really need to do anything—just resume cohabitation. You can move back in together, if you were living in different places, and start living together again as husband and wife. Wear your wedding rings, sleep in the same room, cook and clean and grocery shop for each other—everything is fair game. (Obviously!)
But what if you already took some legal steps to protect yourself while you were separated? Lots of women, in an effort to protect themselves, negotiate a separation agreement or a marital agreement while they’re separated, and that may be something you wish to do, too. (Or, alternatively, something you’ve already done.)
A marital agreement is a legal contract between a husband and wife that basically sets forth the terms needed to keep the marriage going. Sometimes, parties include things like date nights and marriage counseling. In addition, they also usually include the specific provisions that will affect them if they decide, later on, to move forward with a divorce. This way, both parties are fully aware of how the property will be divided and custody split in the event of a later separation and divorce.
Similarly, a separation agreement is a legal contract between a husband and wife as they begin to prepare for divorce. (Though they can certainly reconcile even after a separation agreement is signed—more on that in a minute.)
If you’ve already negotiated a marital agreement or a separation agreement, look at the terms of that agreement and see what is specifically stipulated in the event of reconciliation. Will your agreement return in full force and effect if you reconcile later? Those are probably ideal terms, because both parties know, ahead of time, what happens later on if things don’t seem to be working out. Read your agreement for more information about the specific terms that apply in your case.
You may wish to work with a marriage counselor together, or a therapist one on one, too. If not, that’s fine; it’s totally up to you. But I do find that the couples who have the most successful reconciliations work with a therapist in some form or fashion.
But, really, from this point, it’s entirely up to you!

If we want to divorce, what do we do?

If your separation isn’t going so well and you decide you’re ready to move forward with a divorce, it’s definitely time to start mulling over your options. You don’t have to hire an attorney (though many people do choose to), but you’re going to want to start giving your options some serious consideration.

Hiring an attorney

Of course, the traditional route involves hiring an attorney—which, obviously, I definitely recommend. (If your divorce is going to be contested, you really don’t have much choice; you’ll definitely need an attorney. Wondering if it’s contested? CLICK HERE.) An attorney will represent your interests at all times, be an advocate for you, and help protect you against any problems that might mean you would have to go back to court again in the future.
An attorney can help you whether you plan to draft a separation agreement or move forward with a full fledged contested divorce, making sure you end up with the best result possible.

Using a mediator

Some people also choose to work with a mediator (usually in an effort to save money) on their divorces.
For more information about mediation, including its advantages and disadvantages, click here.

If you’re considering a separation, you’re not alone—and it doesn’t have to be a pit stop on the way to a full fledged divorce. Make the decisions you need to make based on your unique situation, and pave the way for the best new start possible.

For more information, to schedule an appointment, register to attend one of our seminars give our office a call at (757) 425-5200.