You’ve likely heard the term legal separation, or a former half of a couple talking about how they’re now legally separated. This may make it sound like you can get some sort of separation to make it official -- but you cannot. In fact, whether you've legally separated can therefore often be a cause for disagreement between couples who have now gone their separate ways. Separation is a hugely complex issue, covering everything from couples who put continents between each other, to couples who are separated but still live in the same house.
As family law experts, we wanted to take this opportunity to demystify the separation process. There is no form for couples to sign that says they’re separated, and there’s certainly no place to go to register a separation.
What couples can do is formalize their separation. Let’s take a look at how the process works.
How to Separate Formally
Whether you’re married, or in a common-law relationship, you’re officially separated in the eyes of the law if one of the two following points applies to you:
- You and your spouse start living apart, or
- At least one of you makes it clear to the other you want to separate
Unfortunately, some common misconceptions exist around this process. If you want to separate from a spouse and live without them, you don’t need any of the following:
- Permission from the spouse
- Input from a lawyer
- Legal documents to be signed
- Court dates
How to Communicate You Want to Separate
The main criteria to separate from a spouse is to inform them of your wishes, and communicate that you consider the relationship to have ended. This message can be delivered in several ways. You can tell them directly you wish to break up; you can explain you want to move out and separate; you can pack your belongings and leave, or you can set your sleeping arrangements up in a different room and indicate you no longer wish to share the space as a couple.
The Importance of Evidence in a Separation
When a couple separates, the date of separation can prove important. That’s why we recommend communicating your intentions to a spouse in written form. This provides clear evidence of when the separation took place. Why is this important? Well, the date of separation can play a huge role in determining issues such as property division in a divorce. If there’s a dispute over when the split took place, you will have clear evidence to back up your side of the story.
In a Separation, Be Consistent in Your Actions
Following a separation, your actions should be consistent with your words. If you state that you want to separate permanently but continue in all (or most) aspects of your romantic relationship, it will be questionable whether you’ve actually separated.