A Fresh Start in the New Year: Common Mistakes Made When Separating

Written by Jonathan Breeden

January 12, 2021

If you are contemplating divorce, it is vital to learn about separation. North Carolina requires you and your spouse to live apart for one year before filing for a no-fault divorce.

At Breeden Law Office, we see people make several common mistakes during separations. We want you to know about these pitfalls so you can avoid them, and hopefully, make your divorce process a bit smoother.

We highly recommend talking with a divorce attorney as soon as possible. Even if you are not confident divorce is the right choice, you should have accurate information. You should know what steps to take if you decide to separate and make a fresh start in 2021.

Mistake 1: Separating Too Soon

Do not separate until you and your spouse are ready for two reasons. First, North Carolina law requires you to live separate and apart with the intent to continue living separate and apart for 365 consecutive days. Reconciling and moving back in together, stops the clock. If the marriage ultimately fails, you have to start the one-year separation over again.

Second, your intent matters. Many spouses choose to live apart while continuing to work on their marriage, maybe through marriage counseling. A court will not believe you intended to continue living apart if you try to improve your relationship.

We recommend you and your spouse do not separate until you are confident you cannot save the marriage.

Mistake 2: Letting Your Emotions Get the Better of You

Separating and preparing for divorce is a very emotional experience. But it is also a time when you have to make financial and practical decisions. Making smart decisions is hard if you let your anger, resentment, sadness, and other emotions dictate what you do.

You have to set your emotions aside. Since that is hard to do, we recommend talking with a divorce attorney before making any significant property, money, or child custody decisions.

Mistake 3: Signing Documents

Never sign any documents leading up to, or during, your separation without talking to a divorce attorney. At Breeden Law Office, we often hear from people who have signed away their rights to vehicles, real estate, retirement savings, and more because they were so eager to leave the marriage and avoid an argument. All too often, those documents are legally binding, and you can’t take them back.

If your spouse approaches you with paperwork related to shared money or property, talk with us about it. We will explain your rights during this time and how a separation agreement might help. We can help you reach a fair separation agreement with your spouse.

Mistake 4: Failing To Budget

Living in two separate households is more expensive. There will be two rent or mortgage payments, two water bills, two internet bills, etc. We often see individuals fail to calculate their budget and how much they can afford when living apart from their spouse.

We advise all of our clients to calculate a budget. You need to know how much money you bring in, your monthly and quarterly bills, and what you can afford in rent and utilities. You have to figure out whether you can pay for your current residence yourself. Or, if you plan to move, how much you can afford in rent.

Failing to budget makes it challenging to get through a year-long separation. We want you to know how much you can afford to avoid going into unnecessary debt.

Mistake 5: Failing To Make a Child Custody Plan

If you and your spouse share children, you need to agree on how you will share custody. The initial arrangement is up to you two. The children may stay with one parent in the family home and visit the other parent on weekends. Or the children may split time equally between the two residences.

Have this conversation before the separation begins, and make sure to explain the plan to your children. This will be a rough transition for everyone, so it is important not to play it by ear.

A basic custodial plan will work until you and your spouse can get a child custody order in court.

Call a North Carolina Divorce Lawyer

Separation seems like an easy concept on paper. In movies and TV shows, one parent rents an apartment, and the children spend the weekends there. But the reality is much more complicated.

It is best to talk with a divorce lawyer about divorce and separation in North Carolina to do it right and avoid these mistakes. Reach out to Breeden Law Firm at (919) 661-4970 or our online form.


Divorce In North Carolina: What You Need To Know

A book by Jonathan Breeden