Ten Things to Do Before You Separate

How to Separate from your Husband or Wife

Please note: These Suggestions are Guidelines, Your Situation Could Be Different. We STRONGLY SUGGEST that you start with #1 and find out what is needed for your particular situation.

1.     See a family law attorney for information and planning.

If you do research on the internet, be sure it is specific for the state in which you live.  Each state has a different law.  Regardless of where you are in the process, it is important to know the law and how it will apply to you.  Making a decision from a position of knowledge is always better than relying purely on emotion.  Most family law attorneys will charge you a consultation fee for an initial consultation.  For information on whether you need an attorney and how to select one, See our articles “Do I Need an Attorney?” and “What to Expect When You Come to See Us” under the Home section of our website. Remember, you will need to pay an initial fee to your attorney and may be required to pay additional fees later.  Make sure you have access to funds for your fee and discuss these issues with your attorney, they may have some suggestions for you.

2.      Decide you want to separate.

This may seem obvious, but if you are not sure that separating is what you want to do, you need to give the matter more thought.  Just like marriage, a separation is a life-changing event.  It often takes a physical, emotional, and financial toll on you.   Be ready.

3.      Make a plan.

Any plan you make should not depend on your spouse’s agreement.  Remember, you are not going to be able to count on your spouse to act like he or she did when you were married.  What are you going to do if your spouse refuses to leave the house?  Or doesn’t want to share custody of the children? Or cuts off all funds?  Who can you count on?  Who will give you support? You don’t need to hide facts from friends.  It may be that in the future you will need someone to come to court and speak about how you were feeling and why or what your concerns and problems were that led to your decision to separate.  Friends and family can help you through a difficult time, don’t isolate.

4.      Make a budget.

Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you will have the same income as you did while married.  Take a good look at your expenses, see if there is anywhere you can economize.  See how much you need each month to cover your expenses.  Be realistic.

5.      If you or your children need something, get it now.

If you are covered on your spouse’s medical insurance, you may want to make sure your health issues are taken care of. And you may want to have the procedure you have been avoiding while the medical expenses remain a marital expense. This does not mean you should have elective procedures such as a hair implant or facelift, but necessary medical procedures for you or your children should be considered.

If your children need medical or dental attention, clothes, or shoes, or school supplies, get them now. If payment for private school is due soon, pay it if you intend to have the children continue at that school. If the kids need to sign up and pay for sports or need sports equipment or new baseball cleats, or other necessary items, get them now. Again, at present all expenses for the benefit of the family are marital. After you separate, the expenses are separate

6.    Cancel joint credit cards.

If the cards have a balance and you do not want to assume full responsibility for it, ask that there be no new charges allowed.  If your spouse is merely an authorized user, you can have them removed from the card.  If you are merely an authorized user, you can ask to be removed from the card.  You can, also, ask that your limit be decreased if you want to keep the jointly owned card available for emergencies.  Before you separate, be sure to get credit in your own name.  If you cannot qualify for your own credit, talk to your spouse about your having one card to use after separation with the understanding that any future use of the card would be your individual debt.

7.      Close joint bank accounts, overdraft accounts, equity lines, and lines of credit,

or if you must keep it open, require both your and your spouse’s signatures to access the funds. If you intend to pay the other spouse support, you may want to leave the account open for those deposits only. It may take a while to have automatic deposits and withdrawals re-routed to a new account or stopped altogether, but it is a good idea to separate finances as soon as possible. Don’t forget to cancel the overdraft lines of credit and equity lines. Many people overlook these two sources of continued joint liability when they open a new bank account. Even if your spouse’s use of the funds may create a separate (after separation) debt, the bank will still look to you for repayment, and the house would still be encumbered by any new withdrawals on an equity line.

8.    Put aside enough money to get you through at least 3 months.

That will give you breathing room while you try to work things out or set up a new place. You may not be able to get into court quickly, and you need to be sure that you have enough to allow you to handle your and your children’s expenses.

9.     Gather financial information.

You will not have as much access to the bills and account information that is in your spouse’s name after you separate. Make copies of the statements of accounts for at least the past year, and 5 years of business and personal tax returns. Get copies of debts and credit card statements, phone and cell phone bills, anything that looks like it has an account number or a value, copies of insurance policies, appraisals, other important information.

10.      Act on your plan.

A plan is only as good as its implementation.  It is difficult to live in limbo.  If you have gone through all the above steps but do not do anything more, then you are not committing to either your marriage or your separation.  Go back to step 2.  If you decide to stay in your marriage, put your energy into making it work.  If you decide to leave your marriage, then it is time to act.  Not sure how to begin?  See the checklist on the next page, print it out, start with #1, and keep going.