5 Examples of What Not To Do During a Legal Separation

A woman contemplating her legal separation, taking time to think over a cup of coffee.


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A legal separation (aka a formal process of separation during which you and your spouse may live apart but still remain legally married) affords you both some breathing room to solve marital problems, come to terms with emotions, and start over, whether as a still-married or eventually divorced couple.

Being legally separated—not to be confused with a trial separation wherein a married couple decides informally, and without the court's interference, to live apart—means closing the book on one chapter of your marriage and opening another, creating a new center of balance, and making the new arrangement work on a spiritual, emotional, and practical level.

And, regardless of the outcome, you'll at least want to start out by behaving in ways that ease the transition—as opposed to acting embittered and petty, or even in a manner that leads your spouse to think the marriage is actually salvageable when, deep down, you feel it's over. The bottom line is that you must always act civilly, and, whether it's in favor of reconciliation or disbandment, according to whichever outcome you prefer. Here, five things you should never do once you've become legally separated.

Don't Shag

There will be emotional and legal ramifications upon having sex with your spouse during your separation, but you'll face legal stumbling blocks, too. If you live in a state that requires you to be legally separated for a time before filing for divorce, having sex while separated means you'll have to restart the separation process, no matter how far along. And if you or your spouse still carries a torch—and one or the both of you aren't exactly motivated to stay in the relationship—having sex can even instill false hope of reconciliation.

Don't Be A Jerk

Don’t engage in hurtful behavior. Period. Although it may be tempting to do otherwise, don’t denigrate your spouse in front of friends and family. Relegate any and all discussions of your private marital issues to the appointments you've scheduled with a licensed counselor—and if you haven't yet found one, now's the time. Don't let your troubles torment you until they boil over. Remember: Legal separation is a time to reflect, not an opportunity to play the blame game. (Whether you'd like to admit it, you, too, played a role in the dissolution of your marriage.)

Don't Clam Up

Always maintain open lines of communication and be mindful of the way you express yourself; do so civilly and respectfully. If you two aren't sure what the future holds but you're open to staying married, then amicable, honest interactions during the separation period can also foster a healthy reconciliation. From time to time, check in with one another, and always remain present when discussing proper separation protocol. Likewise, you'll also need to freely discuss how you'll potentially split your finances, where you'll both live (especially if you have kids), and any newly established boundaries that will be detrimental and/or uncomfortable to cross. And if you're both biding your time in a state that requires a period of separation before a divorce, peaceful conversation will undoubtedly ease negotiations before the final split, too.

Don't Start A New Romance

Legal separation isn't divorce, and it doesn't give you license to turn around and find yourself another lover. Rather, it is an opportunity to take stock, acknowledge your role in what went wrong in your marriage, to learn how to live as a single parent (if you have kids), and to start the healing process. Before getting involved in a new relationship, think about the consequences: A jilted ex could receive a more favorable judgment when it comes to negotiating the terms of a divorce settlement.

Don't Check Out

Maintain a close bond with your children. Before the separation, it's absolutely vital to formulate a co-parenting plan that enables the child to spend equal time with each parent—and there should be minimal disruptions to the child’s life. It's also important that you remain a grounding force: Be there for your children—don't just disappear.

Talk to them daily, stay involved in their schooling and extracurricular activities, stick to the visitation schedule, and above all, make the kids your number-one priority. Don’t allow your emotional turmoil to seep into your relationship with them, either.

Work through your suffering with a professional; never broadcast grievances in front of your child. Doing so only fosters their feelings of anger, confusion, helplessness, and sadness, and it will more than likely give them the awful idea that they must choose sides.

Don't Break Promises 

You are morally and legally obligated to follow a formal separation agreement. Failing to do so means you'll end up in court, which could damage your already tenuous relationship with your spouse, and possibly even alienate your children.

Follow through with each and every one of your obligations, such as child support, visitation, and financial requirements. Otherwise, your divorce court experience will be unpleasant, to say the least: Judges "frown" on those who ignore the court's stipulations.