What Happens After Married People Separate?

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The separation of a married couple is a situation when the couple lives separately and may or may not reconcile. This usually means that one of the spouses is living outside of the family home until the couple decides whether to stay separated, get divorced or reconcile their differences.

Trial Separation

Many couples opt for a trial separation to help them decide between reconciliation and divorce. There are two types of separation: to separate informally or to separate legally. In informal separations, the couple agrees on a basic working arrangement regarding residence, division of property and child custody. Many courts now require that the couple be separate before their divorce is granted. This is referred to as the "cooling off" period where the couple can analyze their situation and decide what to do next.

Legal Separation

A legal separation is the option for couples who want to separate but do not want to file for divorce. The couple is legally married, but they do not live together anymore; this arrangement is recognized by the courts. The couple can obtain orders regarding child custody, spousal support, division of property and other needs. Legal separation also includes the cases of couples who do not wish to be together anymore, but stay together for the sake of their children. Couples who are morally opposed to divorce or whose religions forbid it have this option. Most states in the U.S. recognize legal separation, though the definition and conditions may slightly vary. In Maryland, for instance, the courts offer a "limited divorce" and North Carolina couples who want to separate can opt for a "divorce from bed and board." Some states, such as Idaho, Texas and Pennsylvania, among others, do not recognize legal separations.

Custody of Children

Once the couple decides to get separated, they have to discuss the issue of custody of their children, if they have any. When a couple separates legally, they have to provide the court with a temporary parenting plan, and the court then grants child custody to one of the parents. This parenting plan includes information such as where the children will be living, how much time the other spouse can spend with the children on a weekly basis and basic rules that both the parents will have to follow for the length of the separation period. In informal separation cases, the couple comes up with a parenting plan on their own. In many cases, this plan can be informal and verbal.

Couples Therapy

Couples who opt for separation can go in for couples therapy with a trained therapist who helps them realize the problem areas in their marriage and see how to resolve them. This can lead to a better level of functioning between the couple. The therapist helps the partners identify what factors are causing dissatisfaction and distress and creates a treatment plan to make the relationship healthier. For this therapy to work, both partners must be sincere, honest and reasonable; the treatment can take a few weeks to a few months, depending on the involvement and effort put in by the partners.