How should I prepare for my separation?

patrickcrawford | February 28, 2019

During the process of separating before a divorce, people often wonder what they should and should not do. Here are some guidelines.

  1. Divide your accounts.
    Take any money to which you believe you are entitled from any joint accounts and put that money into a separate account titled to you only. Doing so will ensure that you have control over how such money is used. Also, close any joint credit cards so that no new charges may be added.
  2. Take control of important documents.
    If you are leaving the home, attempt to take with you any important documents that may be useful at a later time. Such documents may include tax returns, deeds, car titles, social security documents, mortgage statements, bank statements, credit card statements, paystubs, and most any other financial related document going back to the start of the marriage. If you are the one staying in the home, attempt to retain possession of such documents. If you cannot keep such documents, all is not lost, because you may be able to obtain them later as part of the divorce process. But it is always easier if you have them from the beginning.
  3. If possible, keep the children.
    If you wish to retain custody of the children, then it is best if the children stay with you from the start of the separation. When the children are with you, then a history develops of you caring for the children and of the children being accustomed to living with you, and this history will give you an edge in the court proceeding. Of course, you should use caution in following this step if it will incite a violent confrontation with your spouse. A violent confrontation can be very damaging because it can result in a protective order, criminal charges, and more, all of which can negatively affect the divorce and custody process. If you cannot keep the children at this stage, then all is not lost, and you will be able to seek a court order for custody at a later time.
  4. Do not worry about personal belongings.
    Do not worry much about personal belongings. Yes, make sure to retain control of valuable items such as jewelry and cash. But other household items are usually either of little value or the division of such items can safely be left for a later time. Leaving them behind does not mean that you are “abandoning” them because the items are still considered marital property, regardless of whether they are located at your residence or your spouse’s residence. At most, maybe you can take pictures of the items to help you remember them later.
  5. Be careful how you spend your money.
    During the separation period, you should be careful about how you spend your money. You must continue to spend your money for marital purposes, which includes your living expenses and attorney fees and other expenses associated with the divorce proceeding. If you spend your money on non-marital purposes such as a lavish vacation, expensive dinners, gambling, etc., then the court may find that you have wasted marital funds and may order that you repay some of the money to your spouse. In addition, you should avoid making large purchases or making large transfers of money from one account to another because doing so may cause your spouse and/or the court to become suspicious that you are manipulating your assets in order to cause your spouse to get less of it. Even if you are not trying to manipulate your assets, it is best to avoid the appearance of it.
  6. Consider helping your spouse pay bills.
    If you are the primary source of income for the household and your spouse is largely dependent upon you for support, then you should seriously consider providing some support to your spouse during the period of separation. This is especially true if your spouse has retained the children during the separation period. Although you are not legally required to provide such support absent a court order, there are multiple reasons to do so. First, doing so is likely in the best interests of the children. Second, doing so may help you to avoid a hearing to establish a temporary order for support. Finally, doing so will cause the court to perceive you as being a reasonable and responsible person. It would harm you in the divorce and custody proceeding for the court to perceive you as being cruel and uncaring.
  7. Move.
    Obviously, in order to separate, you must separate. Maryland defines “separation” as the state of not living under the same roof and not having sex. If one of those two things occurs even one time, then the court considers the separation to have ceased. Unfortunately, sleeping in separate bedrooms or even in a separate section of the house does not qualify for purposes of being considered separated in the eyes of the court. You normally must live in a separate dwelling with a separate address, entrance, mailbox, etc. If your spouse chooses not to move out, then hopefully you can move out. Obviously, a decision about whether to move out carries numerous practical implications in terms of finances, children, schools, and other things. Often people use the home of a friend or relative as a half-way point on the path to establishing another residence. Such an option is great if it is available. In the end, in order to be considered separated, either you or your spouse must make the hard decision to somehow move out and to set up residence elsewhere.

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