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What should I do before separating from my spouse?

As we have mentioned in previous blog posts, a period of separation is a requirement before filing for divorce in North Carolina. Spouses must be separated for one year and one day in order for a divorce complaint to be filed, according to the law. This generally means spouses must live in different homes with the intent of at least one of the spouses for the separation to be permanent..

These two legal requirements of separation might sound simple, but the process can be anything but simple unless individuals approach their separation carefully and strategically.

Four things to remember to prepare for your separation

In planning for a separation, individuals should:

  • Have a Temporary Custody Plan:  In cases where children are involved, parties should attempt to work out a temporary custody plan before one party moves out. This can prevent parents from getting in a tug of war over the children and give the person moving out some assurances that they will not be cut off from access to the children. When possible, parents should discuss this plan with the children before the separation occurs. At this stage, a temporary plan that can be adjusted in the future based on the needs of the children and the family usually works best.  Parties should also try to figure out who will keep family pets or how time with pets will be divided between them once the separation occurs.
  • Establish Boundaries: Even in the most amicable of situations, you may not want to come home to find your spouse rummaging around the home after you have separated. Set clear boundaries by ensuring that the person moving out returns keys and garage door openers and that the person remaining changes security codes for entry.  There may be many legitimate reasons the spouse moving out needs to come back, such as to spend time with children in the home, perform chores or needed repairs in a home being listed for sale, or retrieve personal property.  Agree to communicate with each other and agree on dates and times for an individual to return to the house if needed so there are no surprises.
  • Develop a Budget: It is never as efficient for two people to live apart, and the financial picture can change dramatically when suddenly there are two sets of bills when there used to be one. Forbes notes that changes in finances are one of the most important issues to address and prepare for before a marital separation. Spouses must take time to understand their marital finances and assets, but also determine how they will manage finances once they are living in separate households.  Developing a budget that identifies each spouse’s net income and estimated expenses in separate homes can help set reasonable expectations and assist spouses with reducing expenses to accommodate this lifestyle change.
  • Gather Important Personal & Financial Documents:  Spouses should get together their last 3-5 years of tax returns and income reporting documents, 3-6 months of pay stubs, 6-12 months of bank and credit card statements, as well as copies of home, automobile, and life insurance policies.  Spouses should know how to access mortgage and vehicle loan statements and should obtain copies of health insurance coverage information for any individual or family plans. Spouses should also take this opportunity to ensure they have important documents such as their birth certificates, passports, and social security cards and that they make copies of important documents for their children so each spouse has access to this information.  Realizing that these items are in a shoebox in your former spouse’s home years after separation is not a good feeling.

Separation does not always end in divorce. However, spouses must think hard before moving forward with separation, so they can protect themselves, their families and their future.