5 Mistakes to Avoid During Your Separation

Separation and divorce are different. While a trial separation may lead to a divorce, it’s not inevitable. Some couples realize, after a temporary separation, that they want to stay together and make it work. Others realize that, through separation, their desire to divorce has solidified.

Then, there’s legal separation. This is a different type of separation that, while not always permanent, is legally recognized in many areas of the U.S. To be legally separated is to live separate and apart from one’s spouse, yet the two of you are still legally married and therefore unable to remarry. A couple might choose legal separation over divorce if their religious views prohibit divorce or if there is some other advantage to staying legally married despite living apart.

Regardless of the nature of your separation, there are certain mistakes separated couples make that we at Hello Divorce want to warn you about. Here’s what you should not do during a separation.

1. Letting others influence you

When you and your spouse decide to separate, consider keeping this information private. While it’s good to lean on friends during tough times, your friends will almost always side with you, making their advice one-sided. This doesn’t make for an objective mindset, especially if you and your spouse have entered a peaceful separation with good intentions.

In particular, avoid posting information about your separation on social media. This is a time to keep things private. If you want outside advice, seek it from a trained professional who is objective and unbiased. 

2. Moving out

In most (but not all) states, you can separate from your spouse while living at the same address. If you go this route, however, you should move into a different room and set some ground rules. Try to hold off on moving out until you’ve come to at least a temporary agreement on bills and co-parenting.

Why might you stay living under the same roof? It's more expensive to pay for two households. If a judge views your moving out as a precursor to divorce and not the “trial separation” you intended, it could impact your ability to have equal time-sharing with your children and keep possession of valuable assets.

Of course, if you are in a situation where your safety or the safety of your children is threatened, the situation is different. In this case, you should separate as soon as it is safe to do so.

Read: What Domestic Abuse Victims Need to Know about Leaving and Divorce

3. Jumping into a new relationship

If you’re separating from your spouse and hope to reconcile, don’t jump into a rebound relationship. While the attention might make you feel good, it’s temporary, and it’s only filling a void. 

A trial separation like this is a time to reflect on your marriage, your actions, and the actions of your spouse. The idea is to give each other time to think about the changes you could make to revive the marriage and make it a good experience for both people. Thus, if you were to start dating too soon, you’d likely push your separation toward a divorce – and not an amicable divorce – especially if your spouse finds out.

The risks of dating while separated

While some couples separate in order to spend time thinking about their marriage and how it might be fixed, others separate to give single life (and all that comes with it) a try. They want to see how it would feel to be disengaged from their marriage without actually revoking the marriage.

Although a valid desire, there are inherent risks that come with dating while still married to someone else. Here are some of them:

  • Misunderstanding: Although one person may think the agreement is to be free to date other people, the other person may not. Misunderstandings like this can happen in the heat of arguments and divorce discussions. 
  • Jealousy and anger: Even if both people say they’re okay with the other person dating, one or both may suffer feelings of jealousy and anger if their spouse actually dates someone. These feelings, in turn, could make a reunion less likely.
  • Difficult reconciliation: If one or both people become distracted by the exhilaration of “new relationship energy,” it could make reconciliation between spouses more difficult and less likely. To give the marriage a fair shot, spouses may wish to agree to avoid dating other people until they are sure there is no hope of rekindling their own relationship.

4. Making rash decisions

Separation can be traumatic. You could spiral into depression or slip into a poor mental state. This is not a time to make quick and rash decisions.

It may feel good to tell your spouse it’s over. They may have pushed you to your breaking point … or the entire situation may be weighing so heavily on you that you can’t think of anything but legal separation or even divorce. It’s important to remove emotion, as much as possible, from your decision-making process. 

11 clarifying questions to ask yourself

Think strategically during your separation. At various points during your time apart, ask yourself the following questions.

  1.  What do you want out of life?
  2.  What do you want in a partner?
  3.  Have you clearly and adequately communicated your concerns and desires to your partner?
  4.  Have you spent adequate time listening to and trying to understand their point of view?
  5.  Have you exhausted all avenues to patch up the marriage?
  6.  Would you be happier if you were divorced?
  7.  Do you still love your spouse?
  8.  Do you want to revive this marriage, or have you passed the point of no return?
  9.  If you want a divorce, could it be a cooperative one where the two of you resolve your issues amicably?
  10.  How will you safeguard your children’s well-being in this situation?
  11.  Are you afraid of something specific?

Only you can answer these questions, and you’ll need time to think them through. Give yourself the time and space to make the best decisions possible. 

5. Punishing your spouse

Many separations become contentious. Sometimes, this leads to one spouse wanting to “get back” at the other. But thoughts of anger and revenge make your decisions more emotional and less likely to be logical and strategic. Forgiving your spouse is something that will benefit you and your future relationships.

Don’t try to punish your spouse. Don’t get into a new relationship to spite them. Don’t threaten to file for divorce today if they don’t do what you want. Punishing your spouse, or attempting to, will only lead to a contentious and very unpleasant divorce. If you do end up divorcing, it’s best to have a mutual divorce – one where the two of you work together to resolve parenting and property issues before you go your different ways.

Co-parenting and separation

If you are the parents of minor children, maintaining a healthy environment for the kids during your separation is likely one of your top concerns. The kids will likely feel confused and upset by the change in their living situation. Simplify it for them as much as possible by helping them know what to expect.

Certain kid-related decisions can be made with your spouse before the separation begins, including the following.

Where will the kids live during the separation?

You might decide to share custody or to trade time with the children. A nesting situation where the kids stay in the family home and the parents rotate in and out can help provide a great sense of continuity, though it can be hard on the parents.

Who will handle the children’s routines and expenses?

As a married couple, you undoubtedly worked out between the two of you who would drive the kids to school, to lessons, to games, to friends’ houses, and more. You knew who would schedule appointments and transport the kids there, who would take the kids shopping for school necessities, and who would pay for the many things they need in their daily lives.

Try to work out the answers to these questions before your separation begins. 

Will money be shared for child support? If so, how?

Child support is common among divorced couples. If you’re not divorced, you might still want to create a child support arrangement so your kids don’t end up going without. You could consult your state’s child support guidelines (each state has its own), or work out something between the two of you.

Note that if you were to become officially divorced, child support may be ordered by a judge if the two of you don’t work out a fair arrangement between yourselves.

How will you communicate with one another about the kids?

With kids in the picture, it will likely be impossible to go no-contact during your separation. That’s okay. Devise one or more methods of acceptable communication such as texting, emailing, or talking on the phone. You may decide to speak about the kids only during certain hours of the day, or you may agree that the kids’ concerns trump anything else.

Joint finances and separation

You’ll want to protect yourself financially during your separation. As a married couple, you likely have joint accounts and shared expenses to think about. How should you handle these things while apart?

How to handle joint accounts

The money in your joint accounts is considered marital property. If you were to get divorced, it would be divided between the two of you. But if your separation is temporary, how do you handle it? Here are a few options:

  • You could close your shared bank accounts together, dividing the money and opening two separate accounts. 
  • You could draft a separation agreement (formal or informal) agreeing to continue to access the joint account, withdrawing only the money needed for living expenses at this time.

If you’re on the same page about the separation and your finances, the latter option may work for you. But if you’re concerned that your spouse might drain your joint account without your knowledge, the first option may be more appropriate.

How to handle shared expenses

The bills you receive as a couple will continue despite your separation. For example, the mortgage will still come due each month, as will any credit card payments. A separation agreement that addresses how you will handle shared expenses can help clarify any doubts or gray areas when you are separated. 

For more ideas and information about separation and handling joint finances, see our articles, How to Separate before Divorce and How to Prepare a Trial Separation Agreement.

Coping with the emotional aspects of separation

Even if separation is something you want to do, it can be emotionally difficult to start this new living arrangement suddenly. 

Take care of your mental health

This looks slightly different for everyone, but it involves taking good care of your physical and mental health. Go to bed at a decent hour so you get enough sleep. Resist the urge to hit the drive-thru or eat snacks all day; prepare nutritious meals, even if you’re the only one eating. Move your body, whether it’s working out at a gym or dancing in your living room.

Maintain a positive mental attitude

The future is unknown at this time, and it can be easy to slip into negative thought patterns. Remind yourself that things will be okay regardless of how the relationship turns out. Repeat positive mantras to yourself. When you’re tempted to view things negatively, take a walk in nature or journal your feelings. Remember that you control your own happiness.

Reach out for support from others

It may be tempting to hole yourself up and veg out in front of the TV all day but don’t isolate yourself. Find your tribe. This could involve meeting people in an online support group or spending more time with family and friends. It could mean working on your mental health with a therapist or counselor. 

Find ways to express yourself

Writing your thoughts and experiences in a journal is a great release and, for some people, a way to gain clarity and insight. Some people turn to an art form such as painting, photography, or even cooking. Others take pleasure in reorganizing their belongings. Find activities that nurture yourself and your personal growth during this time.

Your separation is a special time in your life. Use it to feel your feelings, decompress, take good care of yourself, and explore new interests

How do you know when it’s time to get a divorce?

Keeping the separation mistakes we talked about in mind, we hope you use your time apart wisely to consider what you really want. Be honest with yourself so you can be honest with your spouse later.

Separation may not lead to a reconciliation, even if that’s what both you and your spouse initially hoped for. Often, separation leads to the realization that the marriage is over. Remember that this is okay – and at Hello Divorce, we provide plans and services to keep your options as affordable and stress-free as possible.

Ultimately, don’t ignore what your gut is telling you. Whatever it’s saying, figure out your best path forward, and be honest with yourself and your spouse so you can take actions that benefit you both.


Founder, CEO & Certified Family Law Specialist
Mediation, Divorce Strategy, Divorce Insights, Legal Insights
After over a decade of experience as a Certified Family Law Specialist, Mediator and law firm owner, Erin was fed up with the inefficient and adversarial “divorce corp” industry and set out to transform how consumers navigate divorce - starting with the legal process. By automating the court bureaucracy and integrating expert support along the way, Hello Divorce levels the playing field between spouses so that they can sort things out fairly and avoid missteps. Her access to justice work has been recognized by the legal industry and beyond, with awards and recognition from the likes of Women Founders Network, TechCrunch, Vice, Forbes, American Bar Association and the Pro Bono Leadership award from Congresswoman Barbara Lee. Erin lives in California with her husband and two children, and is famously terrible at board games.