The difference between separating and divorcing seems obvious, one allows for reconciliation while the other is a final solution approved by the courts. However, more couples are viewing separation and divorce as two stages of one path, rather than two distinct options. Couples will choose to mediate a separation agreement first, and then use this agreement to file for divorce if the couple cannot resolve their issues.
Choosing to view the mediation of a separation agreement as a stage in a process provides several benefits. Firstly, it allows ground rules for the separation to be established and written down. Issues such as living arrangements, child support, visitation schedules, bill payments and spousal support can be negotiated for the time a couple spends apart. These are very sensitive areas that are often difficult for people embroiled in conflict to resolve without experienced guidance and facilitation.
Secondly, similar to a divorce agreement, a separation agreement can also be negotiated without the use of attorneys. The average time spent on mediating a separation agreement pro se (without representation) is only a few hours. This can significantly reduce the costs associated with an already difficult process. In addition, most mediators will include a clause in the agreement that allows both parties ten days to have the document reviewed by an attorney and voided if their counsel so advises.
Finally, if after a separation period the couple is still unable to reconcile, the separation agreement can be used as the basis of a divorce agreement. Many of the ‘hot-button’ issues will have already been decided, helping to streamline the divorce negotiations while saving time and money. In fact, some couples decide to settle on all of the issues of the marriage during separation mediations. This allows the couple to simply file for divorce if the time apart does not result in reconciliation.
Conflict and communication lapses are two of the biggest hurdles encountered by couples taking time apart. Mediating separation agreements allows for difficult issues to be discussed and resolved in a controlled environment. Experienced guidance offers couples not only solutions to current issues, but can help create agreements to avoid differences that may not yet have arisen.