You’re unhappy in your marriage and don’t see a way forward. You haven’t separated but you are considering a separation and potentially a divorce. If you’re confused about what steps you should take, we are here to offer some advice.
First, if possible, seek out a reputable licensed marriage and family therapist to see if you can improve your marriage. If you and your spouse both desire to improve the state of your marriage, set the intention and try. A marriage therapist can also help you navigate a separation if, after some sessions, a separation is what you and your spouse decide is necessary. Anyone who has been married knows that marriage is not easy. Sometimes thinking about divorce can be the wake-up call that you need to start working toward improving your marriage. It can be helpful to do a quick introductory call with a few marriage and family therapists (if they offer it) to see if you are a good fit before deciding on one together. If your spouse won’t go to marriage therapy with you (or even if you are currently in marriage therapy), make sure you are also seeing an individual therapist to help you cope and work on your own individual issues.
CONTEMPLATE WHAT’S BEST FOR YOUR CHILD
What parenting schedule might be best for your child if you decide to separate from your spouse? Consider your children’s ages, personalities, extracurricular activities, maturity levels, and medical, developmental, and emotional needs. Consider each parent’s work schedule, lifestyle, and capacity to meet the children’s daily needs. If one parent travels frequently for work, that would factor into the time and days that the traveling parent could assist with school pick-up and drop-off, transport to afterschool activities, homework help, and bedtime. If, after separation, you are going to agree to a parenting time schedule (and not go to court and let the judge decide), the parenting time schedule can look however you want it to and you can decide what schedule ultimately works best for your family.
UNDERSTAND YOUR FINANCIAL PICTURE
Next, start thinking about the marital assets and debts in your marital estate. Go through statements and make a list or a spreadsheet outlining your house, mortgage(s), retirement and investment accounts, bank accounts, car loans, credit card debt, medical debt, any special or valuable household possessions, as well as any property that might be “separate” from your marital estate (like inheritance funds or items you owned prior to marriage). Look at your overall financial picture and think about how you might move forward if you made the choice to separate. Have you been a stay-at-home parent who relied on your spouse financially? Would you need financial assistance from your spouse in the form of post-separation support or alimony? Would you all be able to pay off shared marital debt if you sell your house and both buy smaller homes? In North Carolina and South Carolina, there is a presumption that all of the assets and debts you accumulated during the marriage will be split 50%/50% between the spouses, although there are statutory factors that can cause the percentages to be apportioned differently by a judge.
DETERMINE YOUR LEGAL RIGHTS
Consult with a family law attorney or two. Find out your legal rights and the claims you could make if you choose to separate and divorce. Be extremely honest during your consultation so the attorney can give you accurate advice. Has there been adultery on either side of the marriage? Are there substance abuse issues? Are the children struggling with physical or mental health issues? Family law attorneys have seen and heard everything when it comes to these types of personal family issues, so please do not be embarrassed and speak freely knowing you are protected by attorney-client confidentiality. The issues mentioned above can affect your legal situation, so you want to tell the full truth about past or current situations when you consult with an attorney. If you choose to separate, you generally have to live separate and apart continuously for at least one year before actually filing for no-fault divorce (in both North Carolina and South Carolina). You have time and space to figure it out, so you don’t have to rush to make decisions. If your spouse is against separating or moving towards a divorce, you may have to be the one to leave the marital residence, but know that you do not need “permission” from your spouse to take the next steps. Reach out to set up a consultation with an attorney if you are discerning whether a separation and divorce is right for you. We can help.
Lindsey Dasher is the Managing Partner at Dasher Law PLLC