Saturday, April 25, 2015

Separation Versus Divorce

This is part two of a multi part series of posts related to the process of divorce. In the previous post, I mentioned how I had moved out a year ago, but I realize now that this was somewhat putting the cart before the horse. However, the principals there describe some very important aspects of maintaining a healthy financial picture while the relationship is still good. And in many ways, that is where good things start: as discussions while the relationship is healthy.

But, since this is a financial blog more than a personal account, it makes much more sense to orient on those aspects of the process. However, it has been said many times that the most important financial decision you can make is about who you decide to marry. And I agree wholeheartedly. This was not something that I was keenly aware of many years ago when I began the relationship, however. And regret solves nothing. For me this process was an emotional one, and it evolved naturally through drifting apart, separation, moving out, and then finally divorce and grief.

As part of this multi part series, I will inevitably share things that are personal in nature. While I feel that the world is very different than it once was, I still feel like privacy is important. But in this series, I am deliberately choosing to describe some details of my experience, giving up some privacy in an honest hope that this will help someone out there who might be reading.

So, in this post, I will describe how separation is different from divorce. In describing separation, I will provide some context and specifics as it is often the first step in the divorce process, but doesn't necessarily have to be. And while preparing to separate is a very difficult process, the process can be embarked upon in a rational manner, despite the emotions involved. Distinguishing the emotions from the process is not the same as ignoring the obvious emotional implications involved with separation. Finally, I will describe some very specific steps you can take if, after all considerations are taken into account, you decide you want to continue to prepare to separate.

Separation is not Divorce

It is often difficult for people to imagine that a separation is a good idea. Of course, separation does not have to be a long or permanent change. It is something that could be a good change of pace for you. Separation, strictly speaking, is different for everyone. Sometimes, people separate but continue to occupy the same home. In this case, they file legal paperwork indicating separation. In other cases, people physically live in different locations without yet filing paperwork to divorce.

In the strictest terms, separation is temporary, regardless of outcome. Divorce is permanent; it is a severing of the commitment made between two people and represents the final destruction of a relationship that you've built with someone else. There are many people who separate who end up getting back together. In my own personal experience, separation is not to be undertaken lightly however. Before you start to strongly consider separation, consider what you would believe to be the best outcome. If you want a happy marriage, a separation with a short period and finite/strict rules is probably the right strategy over an open-ended long-term separation.

Consider strongly your reasons for separating. Are they emotional? Financial? Or perhaps even physical/external forces? If those forces are enough to cause you to feel the need to separate, will those forces become better with separation? If not, you're not likely solving a problem by separating. Rather, I view separation as a great first step if there are difficulties that seem too enormous to be dealt with in the immediate term and you feel that being together with someone is toxic. Also, separation may be a perfectly reasonable way to deal with some problems which are not relationship-ending in severity, but yet still require some space or distance to sort out. In the latter case, I would strongly consider using the term vacation rather than separation. In this circumstance, you almost certainly intend to stay together.

Get Happy about your Emotions

The first thing that is worth doing and trying is to get happy about your emotions around separation. Separating is an emotional experience. This is completely normal. When you're feeling overwhelmed, and you don't know how to cope, sometimes this is the only way you can do it is to start to consider the possibility that you'll separate. Remember that separating is an emotional experience, and if you are feeling emotions, even very dark ones, you can rejoice in that and be glad. This means that you still have capacity to feel. So get angry, get sad, feel happy and alive. Your emotions are there. They are real and they can be the fire that motivates you to move and make a positive change in your life and in your relationships.

Dealing with the emotions is different for everyone. Consider doing things that clear your mind. For some people this may be meditation or spending time in nature. Personally, I find great peace in my yoga and spiritual practices, but for others it may be attending synagogue or other forms of worship. Do what works for you and spend some time doing things that allow your mind to relax. Give yourself permission to try new things and to make mistakes! Nothing has to be perfect the first time. Don't force yourself to dwell on these difficult problems for long periods without a break. These choices that free your mind allow you to focus and channel your emotional energy toward a positive change.

Once the emotions are in a good place, find one or two trustworthy friends that you can communicate with during this time about your process. If you can find friend(s) that are separate from your significant other, that will be ideal. If it is a friend who is rational and organized, all the better. This will allow you to vent when necessary, but also to ensure that you don't get too far afield with your thinking.

Staying Clear, Preparing for Change

Once you are clear and have a practice that regularly redirects your emotions to a good place, you will be able to evaluate your situation toward separation. This blog is oriented on personal finance, so obviously that is the focus. However, many people make choices financially that are emotional and that is where large amounts of opportunity and money is lost.

Review your income. Do you have a steady job that you think you could continue to work at throughout the divorce? Are you currently in good standing? It is important to realize that your professional reputation could take a hit during this process. Both separation and divorce are extremely stressful and if you are on shaky ground for your income, stabilizing that can often be a good first step in the process. Ensuring that the process is smooth is your best defense against professional impact.

Review your savings. Do you have a large amount of savings? Liquid savings are definitely the best types of assets to have during any kind of personal storm like separation or divorce. They provide a large cash cushion to ensure that unexpected expenses can be handled quickly and easily. Additionally, they avoid issues that are involved with variable prices for non-liquid assets like Real Estate.

Review your obligations. Do you have children, rental properties, aging relatives or other considerations that impact your ability to easily change your living or financial situations? Obviously if that is the case, you will want to consider each of these options and develop one or two contingency plans for each of these obligations to ensure that items are dealt with correctly and quickly.

If one or more of these items are not in a good state, it is not insurmountable. Remember that separation, if you should decide to go that route is a highly individual process which can certainly take time. And what is more, it should not be embarked upon lightly. Discuss your relationship with your significant other regularly. Is it something you want to embark upon? Is it something that you want to execute? Before making any serious decisions, consult that friend or friend(s) who you really trust. Stay tuned for the next article in the series

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