Date of Separation

What day was your marriage considered officially over? What day did you tell your partner that things wouldn't work out?

Some divorces come from a memorable event, such as a big fight or a serious accident. You can look at the calendar, point at a date, and understand just when everything went wrong.

But some divorces stem from a slow-burning problem. You fight, you get back together, and you fight again. You may not understand when everything was broken completely and couldn't be repaired. 

Knowing your date of separation is more than a matter of circling a date on the calendar. You will use this date to determine key facts about your divorce and your future. 

What is the date of separation?

The day one spouse declares the marriage officially over, and that person begins acting as though the relationship won't move forward, is your date of separation. 

Courts use this date when deciding critical issues, such as these:

  • Asset distribution
  • Child support payments
  • Debt responsibility 
  • Spousal support payments

On the date of separation, there’s been a complete break in your relationship, and you’re no longer functioning as a married couple.


How is the date of separation determined?

The separation date marks the day one spouse tells the other that the marriage is over, and that spouse begins acting independently.

You could determine this date through various means:

  • Notes: If you wrote your partner an email or text about your plans, this could help to determine the date. 
  • Agreements: If you signed a rental agreement or hired an attorney, the date on these documents could mark your official separation. 
  • Witnesses: If you told someone else (like a parent or adult child) about the split, that person could testify about the split date.

In general, it’s best to mark your split with some kind of documentation. It might seem harsh to write details down, but this paperwork could be critical when you work through your divorce. 

Why does the date matter so much?

Most couples understand when their marriages are over. But the actual date of separation can be contentious, mainly because it impacts so many other issues. These are just a few questions that can't be answered without a date of separation: 

Income and property division

In many states, items and property accrued during the marriage become community property, split evenly during a divorce. The date of separation marks the moment you're buying things for yourself and not the partnership.

Child support 

When does one spouse begin paying the other to care for children? The date of separation marks the moment. 

In contentious divorces, courts could order one spouse to pay back missed payments. The courts need the date to determine how much back payments are owed. 

Spousal support

Sometimes, courts require one partner to pay the other after the marriage ends. Again, courts sometimes require one partner to pay back missed payments. The date of separation makes that possible. 

Fidelity or adultery 

In some states, one spouse must prove the other made a mistake for the divorce process to begin. Adultery can work as a fault. The date of separation marks the moment one partner could start a new relationship without committing adultery. 

What happens if you don’t agree?

Spouses can argue about the date of separation, especially if they split up and get back together repeatedly. 

It's best for couples to collaborate and find a date together. This could be a difficult conversation, but it's important to settle on one date. 

If couples can't agree, they could go into mediation to find a date, or they can settle the question in a hearing in front of a judge. 

Can you modify your date of separation?

This is a complex question that's best answered with the help of a lawyer. In some states, you can file simple paperwork to modify the date. In other states, the date of separation is harder to change as it touches so many parts of your divorce. 

Talk to an attorney about what is possible in your state.

Suggested reading: Our Favorite Resources for Life after Separation

Divorce Specialists
After spending years in toxic and broken family law courts, and seeing that no one wins when “lawyer up,” we knew there was an opportunity to do and be better. We created Hello Divorce to the divorce process easier, affordable, and completely online. Our guiding principles are to make sure both spouses feel heard, supported, and set up for success as they move into their next chapter in life.