Your Emotional Quandary: A Separation or a Divorce?
Let’s talk about what brings you to this dilemma, ladies. Are you like I was, wanting to take baby steps to resolve your marriage problems? Are you thinking that “separating” will lessen the impact of your needing to try things differently? Does the word “divorce” sound too frightening? Don’t bother answering that last one. I know the answer.
“Separation” sounds kinder
I was there. I thought if I pursued “separation” (I was desperate to avoid “divorce”), that the implied space apart would give my husband and me time to reflect, to cool down, to consider how we might live without conflict. The first step in my mind, and what I so critically craved, was to have space and peace, and for sure the “D” word sounded too final. It meant crossing a line of “No Return.” No, no, no, if only we could have peace and time apart, we might see things differently. The toxicity would blow over, and behind it, there might be a space preserved for us — a hope, that we could reconcile.
Finding out what your rights are is not a one-way road to divorce
It’s natural that you don’t want to rush into finalities, but let me share with you a few things from the other side of the bridge. Finding out what your rights are and attaining information in terms of a separation, divorce, or a post-nuptial agreement, does not mean a one-way road to DIVORCE. As a fully living, grown and thinking woman, understand this, you are entitled to the pursuit of happiness. You are allowed to find out what is possible and what different paths might mean for you and your family. Learning does not equal doing.
In the past, in order to divorce, one person in the marriage had to prove the other was guilty of wrongdoing. At the time, legal separation was a means to establish these grounds for divorce. Now, however, all 50 states honor “no fault” divorce, meaning a couple may divorce for any reason and this knee-jerk reaction that you must separate first may be passé.
Separation may be an un-needed expense
For some women, particularly of a certain age, a legal separation may be the answer for financial reasons. And sometimes, it’s in the interest of everybody, especially the children, for the parents to not be under the same roof — as soon as possible — because it is a war zone. However, no one should move out of the house without a written agreement in place to protect each of your interests and concerns. In fact, if you simply move out without this agreement, you may be putting yourself at risk, and be accused of abandonment.
If you decide to legally separate, you will need an attorney to help you draft this legal document that delineates how the finances will be separated and how the children will be cared for during the separation. It is important to consider that going through all the steps of a legal separation is time consuming and costly. So if you think you will eventually pursue a divorce anyway, the hassle of a legal separation may simply not be worth it. (For insights to the legal processes and differences between a separation and divorce, read our interview with a well-respected NYC attorney. Or for more on what to ask a divorce attorney, visit our list of suggested questions.)
Divorce itself is not a fast process
If you are like I was, you are really using separation as an emotional crutch, a means to slowing things down before you have to decide whether or not to divorce. But realize this, divorce itself is not a fast process. You will have time to reflect whether or not this is really the right path for you. As women, we like time. We like “outs,” because we want to believe there is still hope for alternatives. Understand that by embarking on the divorce process, if at any time you want to abandon ship and reconcile, it is possible (of course, he has to be willing. But Richard Burton was, even after the divorces were final!). The point is to recognize that you have arrived in a place in your relationship where you have accepted on some level that something must change. The Same Old is not working. You must consider and eventually construct something new, and to know what that new thing is requires an education.
So do not get hung up on the words, separation or divorce. Talk to a lawyer about your circumstances. Like divorce, a legal separation varies from state to state, so obviously it’s important to get the advice of a divorce attorney licensed in your state to determine if a legal separation agreement or a divorce is more viable for you. Or, talk to a divorce coach like us. We can help you with the emotional space you may find yourself in right now, give you an overview of the various paths, and can even connect you with the right attorneys, mediators, and financial advisors you may need to understand the nuances to your specific story. You deserve to know what is possible for you and your family so you can make the right decision when the time comes. Remember, learning does not equal pulling the trigger.
Since 2012, SAS for Women is entirely dedicated to the unexpected challenges women face while considering a divorce and navigating the divorce experience and its confusing afterward. SAS offers women six FREE months of email coaching, action plans, checklists and support strategies for you, and your future. Join our tribe and stay connected.