Why did you get married? Take a moment and think about that, we’ll wait…
What did you come up with? Was she the most beautiful girl you had ever seen? Did you wake up one day and realize that she was your best friend and if you had something important happening in your life she was the first person you wanted to tell? Was she uniquely wonderful in a way that you had never seen in another human being? There had to have been something about her that at one point led you to believe that you couldn’t live without her and that you wanted to be with her forever, right?
So what happened? You knew going into it that no one stays young forever and besides, you loved her for much more than the way she looked, right? The first year of marriage always has its issues. You knew you were committed then and, as they say, the honeymoon ends at some point. This is usually the point where you start seeing all of the real human traits that for better or worse were obscured behind the euphoria of new love. Does she have some weird habit that irritates you? Is she overly possesive or strident? Has the intimacy dried up? Were you more in love with the idea of marriage than the reality?
We could go through scenarios for another 10 pages but we wanted to get you thinking. If you are considering divorce, something has changed drastically from that early time in your relationship when it seemed as though she was all you needed to be happy forever. Now that you’ve come to that conclusion, it is extremely imperative that you not make rash decisions but do take the time to analyze and reflect upon what brought you to this before you make any final decisions.
A wise first step is to consider a legal separation. With a little breathing room, perhaps you can find more objectivity. You can attend counseling and have some time to ponder what you have learned without having to debrief with your spouse on the ride back to your shared home. We don’t have any hard stats on how often the aftermath of a useful and potentially successful counseling session can devolve into a screaming match when someone hasn’t had time to process and consider what they’ve learned before being debriefed by a possibly hostile spouse but empirical evidence leads us to believe that it is a common occurrence.
There are great psychological and emotional benefits to be found in taking some time to reflect and reevaluate. Suddenly, she’s not there when you have some important experience that you would like to share. Do you miss her? Do you miss the life that you built together? Is the stuff that was bothering you not such a big deal now that she’s not there to share your life? Are you realizing that you might have been taking her for granted? Life’s not quite the same when you’re alone.
Conversely, what if you now realize that you were definitely miserable and she’s the black cloud that’s been hanging over your life for far too long? Were you the only one working hard for a successful marriage and she was just spending your money and making you feel like less of a human? Is she a total narcissist who will probably never care about anyone’s happiness more than her own? Thank goodness you took the opportunity to spend some time apart and make that realization before you wasted any more of your happiness trying to fix something that can’t be fixed.
Do you have kids? What do their lives (life) look like if you get divorced? You can safely assume that they aren’t going to be happy about it and you’re going to have to address that with them but what about the logistics of running two separate households and having your children bounce back and forth between them? Observing the broken relationship of parents can have a profound impact on the lives of children. It’s about making the best choices for them right? With a separation, you can get a sense of how they will be impacted and how they will react. Maybe you realize that for their sake, you should work harder to fix your marriage and move forward or maybe you realize that having your kids continuously exposed to the toxicity of an unfixable marriage will impact and possibly destroy their future relationships as well.
People tend to bring what they’ve observed in their parent’s marriages into their own relationships and there are boatloads of examples of how that has doomed the relationships of children from broken homes. On the upside, there are also a fair number of examples of children who observed the breakdown of their parents’ marriage and the subsequent happiness that can be found when moving on to a healthier relationship and used it to avoid making the same mistakes themselves. Some might argue that a child who has observed that has more tools in their own relationship toolbox because they’ve seen more.
So how does this whole legal separation thing work then? It depends a bit on your state but we’re writing this for those who reside in California so let’s focus on that. Although some states require that couples live apart for some predetermined amount of time before granting a divorce judgement, in CA, it is strictly optional. The primary legal benefit is that it may hasten the divorce process if you are eager to just be done with it. The caveat is that you must file for a legal separation. Just deciding to do it without making it official does not bring the same benefit. As we often point out, this is why it’s imperative to consult with a competent attorney early on in the process, even if you haven’t completely come to the determination that you are ready to pull the plug on your marriage.
Another part of the CA law states that you cannot enter into a legal separation without the consent of both spouses. In other words, you can’t unilaterally decide that you want to be separated and pull the trigger on that all by yourself. Since it can speed up the divorce process, both partners must agree to the separation before it can be legally recognized. You must also have been a resident of the state for at least six months before a divorce can be granted so choosing a separation might be a good way to get some space, prepare for the divorce and live through that six month waiting period if you are a newer resident. Bear in mind though that CA also makes you wait an additional six months after the divorce has been filed before it becomes final. Under the right (or wrong as the case may be) circumstances, you could be waiting as long as a year for a divorce to be final.
As with most things, there is a downside to legal separation though. The most obvious is that you can’t remarry. That may or may not be important to you when it first comes up but no one can foresee the future and it’s frustrating if circumstances change and you are locked into a situation. You also continue to share financial responsibility for debts and other financial issues that might be incurred by your spouse. Fortunately, just as with a divorce judgement, there can be stipulations included in a judgement of legal separation to protect you from any irresponsible habits financial or otherwise that you spouse may exhibit. The judgement can also include stipulations pertaining to custody.
As you have probably now realized, there are a lot of moving parts that go into a judgement of legal separation and there are many benefits to it. One big one that we’ll mention in closing is that your spouse may be able to remain on your insurance or vice versa so long as you are still legally married. That’s usually pretty important to at least one of you. As also mentioned, there are some pitfalls to watch out for and avoid which causes us to say once again, it is in your best interest to retain competent counsel to protect you and your interests whenever you find yourself in unfamiliar legal territory.