The first step in dissolving a marriage is separation.  The day you or your spouse moves out of the marital home and establish a separate residence is the day your separation begins.  Creating a separation agreement is a good way to ensure your interests are covered regarding property division, alimony, child custody and support.  You do not have to have a separation agreement to be legally separated, but it is a way to protect yourself from misunderstandings and costly legal fees down the road.  Some couples are able to negotiate an agreement on their own, but some need the help of an attorney.  Do what is best for your situation.

Absolute Divorce

The second step in dissolving a marriage is absolute divorce.  This is actually the easiest part of the divorce because all issues pertaining to money or children have been resolved and the only thing left is a change of status legally.  After one calendar year of living separate and apart and with no intention to resume living together, a divorce can be filed for.

Separation Agreement Issues

Things can get ugly when a couple decides to separate.  Even the most amicable couples that split may have disagreements on certain things.  The parties to the divorce are not the only ones who can wind up hurt during a divorce.  Children, friends and family are all affected.  Issues with child custody can be very problematic.  Emotions can sometimes get in the way of logical reason.  Therefore, sometimes it is necessary to involve lawyers and other professionals to help.  Even then, it can be difficult.  The best way to handle negotiations is to remain calm and keep your emotions in check.  Focus on what you really want and need and what your spouse really wants and needs, as well as your financial situation currently and in the future.  Don’t try to negotiate without doing your homework first.

Tactics for Negotiating on Your Own

  1. Find a neutral place. Make sure you feel safe and meet at a pre-planned time. If the conversation starts to get heated, stop the negotiations immediately.
  2. Make a list of all the areas you agree on.
  3. When discussing things you don’t agree on, really try to hear your spouse out. Then try to get your spouse to really listen to what you have to say as well. Try to keep your voice calm and steady.  Be careful not to box yourself in by setting a dollar amount too high or too low in the beginning.
  4. Know the value of the property you will be getting, the lower the values on your items, the more items you will get in a 50% division.
  5. Try to address all issues at one time. This promotes closure and can keep expenses down.
  6. When there is a disagreement over something, look at the facts. Talk with your spouse about what the likely outcome would be if you have to go to court.
  7. Look for where you can gain leverage. Maybe your spouse has a secret he doesn’t want others to know, or maybe he/she really loves a specific item, or maybe he/she has a sense of duty or pride in being known to do the right thing.
  8. Always keep in mind that, once signed, separation agreements are legally binding contracts. You should always have an attorney review any agreement before you sign.

When to look to the courts

If you are unable to come to an agreement with your spouse, it’s ok.  Just keep putting one foot in front of the other.  Make an appointment with an attorney or another professional who can help get the ball rolling.  Even with the help of outsiders there may not be resolution and you may have to litigate.  Most people see this as a last resort as it is much less contentious and much less costly to settle without going to court.  Further, if left to a judge, neither you nor your spouse will have any control over the judge’s decision; so unlike a settlement agreement, you have no power to get what you want.

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