Using Mediation When You Decide to Separate
Some couples reach a point in their marriage where they are considering divorce, but they are not sure about taking such a permanent step. In the meantime, they decide to separate for a while. This can present challenges of its own, because many states (including Massachusetts) do not have legal separation, which leaves many important issues in doubt. Mediation helps couples in this situation by putting a plan in place to address these issues while they are deciding their next step.
Divorce mediation is a process by which divorcing spouses work out their differences in a cooperative setting with the goal of ending the marriage with the least amount of conflict possible. When a couple decides to separate, this same process can be used to define terms and conditions of the separation, so everyone is on the same page. During the process, spouses work out a Separation Agreement, which can become a binding contract if both parties agree to it.
A Separation Agreement can address several important issues, some of the most common include:
Parenting Plan: If you have children, you want to make sure they are taken care of and there are clear guidelines between the parents. A parenting plan can spell out who has the kids on what days based on the schedules of the parents and best interests of the children. Since the process of mediation is being utilized, parents can be creative and customize a plan that best fits their specific needs.
Financial Issues: You need to decide who will pay what bill and how the finances will be allocated. This is especially important if one spouse is the primary earner in the family. You need to ensure that the dependent spouse and children have the support they need. You should also address other financial issues such as responsibility of bill paying, any shared expenses, credit cards, household expenses and more.
Marital Property: Who will have control of which portions of the marital property? For example, which spouse will stay in the home you own together, and which one will move? Also, if you own a business together, how will it work to be business partners when you are separated? Sometimes, couples are able to put personal differences aside and continue working together, while in other cases, this may not be the best option.
Separation is not the same as a divorce, but it may be a step in that direction. By working out a Separation Agreement, you have a well-defined plan to help you get through this interim period. If you decide to reconcile, the agreement can be nullified. If you decide to dissolve the marriage, you have a structured framework already in place, clearing the way for a more smooth and seamless divorce process.