What is a Controlled Separation?

Legal Separation Definition
Courtesy Noel Hendrickson/Getty Images

What is a controlled separation and what are the benefits?

A controlled separation is a new approach to dealing with marital problems that has grown in popularity over the last few years. The ultimate goal of controlled separation is to save the marriage by working with a counselor to put together a separation agreement with specific guidelines.

Controlled separation allows couples who are experiencing marital problems to live separately and, at the same time negotiate and work toward finding solutions to the marital problems.

It has been found to be successful when one spouse was adamant about divorcing. Putting distance between the spouses and individual work with a counselor helps spouses see things from a different perspective.

There are always guidelines to follow that are written up in contract form. The guidelines depend on the individual couple and what problems they are facing. Below are examples of basic guidelines a controlled separation agreement might include.

Controlled Separation Agreement Guidelines

  • Set a time limit for the separation. Preferably three to six months but couples have the option to set any limit on the time period for the controlled separation.
  • Neither spouse will file for a divorce. It is agreed that neither spouse will file for divorce during the specified time frame. And, if that becomes an option for one spouse, a divorce will not be filed without first consulting the other spouse.
  • One spouse moves out of the home. Spouses decide which one will move out of the home. If at all possible the spouse with the larger income should move.
  • Finances are split during separation. All monies should be split in a fair and just way. During a controlled separation, there are two households to maintain financially. It is important that both spouses feel secure with their financial standing during the separation.
  • Focus on the welfare of the children. The children should not be neglected in anyway. There should be a regular visitation schedule and if agreed between spouses, family outings with the children.
  • How confidential the separation will be. An agreement as to who is told what and who isn't. To keep down further animosity or growing conflict the spouses should agree about what is said about their separation and who the news is shared with. There should be a clause that address exact words to be used by both spouses when explaining the separation to others. This keeps down any possibility of the separation turning into a "he said, she said" situation. 
  • When and how often will time be spent together. If the couple wishes to spend time with each other outside the counselor’s office this can be negotiated. Dinners together where the marital problems are not discussed can often help couples reconnect emotionally. Time together has a family can help reassure the children that they are still loved by both parents.
  • Will there be intimacy during the separation. Whether or not to continue with the sexual relationship should be discussed. Both spouses should be on board with continued sexual activity during the separation. It isn't healthy to force sexual intimacy on one or the other spouse.
  • What is the end date for the separation? It will be decided whether one spouse can terminate the contract or they both have to come to an agreement regarding the end of the contracted separation. Optimally, both spouses will agree on a time period and that no divorce will be filed during this time. The purpose is to try and save the marriage so, that and not divorce should be the focus. 

The list below summarizes some of the benefits of a controlled separation and a structured separation agreement.

  • Puts a stop to the fighting.
  • Gives each spouse the space needed to cool off.
  • Keeps the spouses from acting on impulse.
  • Spouses get to experiment with living alone and having more freedom.
  • A chance to grow and assess your role in the marital problems.
  • A true test of how you feel about your partner once you are not seeing them regularly.
  • If the couple does not reconcile it gives them a chance to prepare of an amicable divorce.