We’re Separated! What do I do now?

If you and your husband recently separated, you’re probably wondering what your next move should be. You’re also probably feeling scared, overwhelmed, or angry, and you don’t want to let your emotions run away with you at such a critical time. You know that the choices you make now can have a tremendous impact on your life later on, but you’re not really sure what choices you should be making to safeguard your future.

You’re not alone, and it’s great that you’re committed to making the best choices you can to protect yourself. So, what should you do? Well, first thing’s first: check your emotions, and take a logical look at your situation.

Are you financially dependent on your husband? If so, you’re like most women who have curtailed their careers for the sake of their families. Do you still have access to the marital money? If not, you’ll want to file for divorce as quickly as possible, because that way you’ll get into court quickly for your pendente lite (temporary support hearing). This is the hearing where the judge grants temporary spousal and child support to help you make it through until you reach an agreement or until the judge enters an order in your case.

If you do still have access to the joint checking account, though, you may want to just sit tight for a little while. That can seem counterintuitive. When your whole world has been turned upside down again, you want to make it right again by taking some sort of action to correct the imbalance. Don’t be too hasty, though, because the guidelines for child and spousal support (if you qualify) are not really overly generous. You will probably find that its harder to make ends meet than it was before. So why pull the rug out from underneath yourself? If you still have access to the marital accounts after separation, keep on going until (1) he cuts you off from the money, or (2) he files for divorce.

That way, you can keep paying the monthly bills out of the joint account, and you can even take care of things you’ve been putting off, like new tires or back to school shopping. It’s going to be less expensive for you to do those things now, with marital funds, than it will be once your money is separated. It’s also not a bad idea to get cash back every time you go to the grocery store or Target so that you have a little nest egg in case he cuts you off unexpectedly.

You may not want to sit around and do nothing, but sometimes that’s the best course of action. It’s never a bad idea to meet with an attorney and get advice specifically tailored to your individual situation, but it’s not absolutely critical until you get served with a complaint. At that point, you’ll definitely want to talk to someone, and fast, because in Virginia you only have 21 days after you’re served to respond.

Whatever you do, don’t let your emotions be your guide. Listen to logic, and make the best decisions for your future.

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