Something I have been seeing more and more in my practice as a mediator and collaborative attorney are couples living apart for long periods of time, without being legally separated.
For various reasons, many married couples decide to separate for years without having any legal agreements in place. They don’t realize until years later when one of them is seeking a divorce that the legal, financial and emotional issues caused by the years of separation can become very difficult to resolve.
Below are just some of the pitfalls that people encounter when they separate unofficially:
- When two spouses start living separately, the clock starts ticking on a new status-quo. Eventually, the lifestyle maintained by the lower-earning spouse during the separation can become the standard for the amount of spousal support that is required in the future.
- Non-legal separations do not necessarily end the legal financial union between spouses. That means all the money earned – or debts being incurred – by either spouse may still be considered part of the shared marital estate.
- The higher earning spouse is not necessarily going to get credit under the law for the amount of support they’ve been providing.
- Once a couple moves into separate residences, communication between them can break down even more than it was while they were living together, which makes negotiating a separation agreement even harder than it has to be.
- If either spouse starts a new relationship and spends money on the new partner, it can be considered a “waste of marital assets,” which can result in complicated requests for repayment (financially as well as emotionally).