7 Tips For A Healthy Separation
September 29th, 2023
If you and your spouse are ready to take a break, you may be interested in how to separate in a healthy way and reduce conflict. Here are some tips that can help you move toward a healthy separation so you can protect yourself and your children from conflict and grief.
1. Understand the Process of Separation from Marriage
Couples separate for multiple reasons. Sometimes not living together can make it easier to repair your relationship through couples counseling. However, when the relationship has truly ended, moving out is the first step in the process of separation from marriage. Because divorce is a legal process it is important to know what is expected of you before you begin. There is no legal separation in Maryland. In addition, the laws about separation prior to divorce are changing as of October 2023.
Under the new law, couples will need to “pursue separate lives” and live “separate and apart” from one another for at least 6 months before filing a complaint for divorce. (This is decreased from one year under the current law.) While the new law no longer requires you and your spouse to maintain separate households, it should be clear that the relationship is over. Once that 6 months has expired, or you and your spouse have agreed on a Mutual Consent Divorce, you can file your complaint and ask a Maryland family court judge to end your marriage.
2. Make a Plan for Finances and Children During Separation
Separation and divorce often mean transitioning from a two-income, two-parent household to supporting yourself and your children as a single parent, at least part of the time. This is a big change that may make it difficult or even impossible to maintain your current standard of living. Before you start packing, make a budget that covers all your expenses during separation. You can use that budget to negotiate a separation agreement that includes temporary alimony and child support to provide for your family until you can finalize your divorce.
Your children need stability during separation too. You can reduce the negative effect of divorce on your children simply by making a plan with your spouse about their custody and visitation ahead of time. That way your children will know neither parent is abandoning them. Establishing a consistent schedule will make it easier for them – and you – to remember and predict when they will spend time with each parent.
3. Be Respectful and Considerate to Promote Healthy Separation
There is a reason you are separating from your spouse. No one expects you to be their best friend. However, treating one another with respect and consideration can go a long way to a healthy separation, and a low-conflict divorce.
Many people are successful in treating their former spouse like a business partner in the shared venture of raising children, selling their home, or dividing up their property. By using professionalism as a guide to interactions with your spouse, you can keep from aggravating those emotional issues that caused you to separate in the first place. In addition, it will model appropriate behavior for your children and let them know it is okay for them to still love both their parents.
4. Establish Boundaries During Separation
Separation and divorce are emotionally difficult, even in low-conflict families. The way your spouse communicates with you or attempts to be involved in your life during separation can “trigger” your emotions. You may get angry or upset, and this can cause you to lash out at them or in the presence of your children.
One way to prevent this is to establish boundaries between you and your spouse:
- Will you visit one another or make any efforts to reconcile during your separation?
- Will you attend couples counseling or marriage counseling together?
- How will you and your children celebrate holidays?
- What issues are off-limits? (For example, did they get to know that you have started dating?)
- What is the best method for communication? (Phone calls, text messages, emails? Be sure never to pass messages through your children.)
- Are there exceptions for emergencies?
- How quickly do you expect to respond and receive responses to messages? (12 hours? 24 hours? Be sure to leave yourself time to process your emotions before responding.)
- Can either spouse call a “time out” if discussions get heated? If so, how will discussions resume?
- What topics are better directed at your divorce attorney?
Clearly establishing and communicating your boundaries during separation can help you maintain emotional distance from your spouse and prevent emotional spikes.
5. Keep Communication Lines Open During Separation
While you want to establish healthy boundaries, don’t let that “good fence” turn into a stone wall. It is often tempting to shut your spouse out during separation and focus on yourself and your needs. However, if you have children in common or are still trying to resolve property issues for your upcoming divorce, a lack of communication will often work against you. At a minimum it will slow down the resolution of your marriage and raise attorney fees. In more severe cases, refusing to communicate with a co-parent can work against you when you eventually ask your Maryland family law judge to resolve issues of child custody and visitation.
6. Choose Collaborative Divorce for Finalizing Separation Agreements
If you and your spouse agree to prioritize a healthy separation, one way to put that commitment into action is through the Collaborative Divorce process. Collaborative law is an out-of-court divorce option that prioritizes mutual respect and dispute resolution. It allows you and your spouse to work with professionals, including your own collaborative divorce attorneys, a divorce coach, therapists, financial advisors, and others, to create a plan for your separation and subsequent divorce. Those who use Collaborative Divorce to finalize their separation agreements often find that the solution they reach is more tailored to their needs, and more durable in the face of future changes than a court-ordered divorce and custody order entered after an adversarial trial or hearing.
7. Get Help Coping with Separation and Divorce
One of the best tips for a healthy separation is “don’t do it alone!” Ending a long-term relationship is hard and you will face emotional and practical struggles as you go through the process. It is best if you build a support team to help you including:
- Trusted friends and family members
- Child-care providers (if you have young children)
- Divorce coaches or therapists
- Divorce attorney
Knowing who to go to for comfort and who to listen to for advice is a key part of healthy separation and divorce. While friends and family members can be a great shoulder to cry on, you should always work with an experienced Maryland separation and divorce lawyer and listen to their advice to negotiate your separation agreement and prepare yourself for life as a divorced person.
At the Law Office of Shelly M. Ingram, we know how important a healthy separation is to resolving your marriage with respect. If your goal is to minimize conflict in your separation and divorce, we will meet with you and help you create a plan for your separation and choose the right process for your divorce. If you have a legal need and would like to speak with an attorney, please call us at (301) 658-7354 or contact us through our website to schedule a consultation. We look forward to working with you.