When your marriage is over but you can’t leave, it can feel like living in purgatory. You can’t go back to a time when you were happily married, and you can’t move on with your life. For some people, wanting to be divorced but not moving forward can be worse than actually going through with the process. Here is why getting on with your divorce might be the right thing to do:
Legal Separation in Wisconsin
Under Wisconsin law, when a married couple wants to split up formally, they can ask for the court to grant a legal separation. Like a divorce, a legal separation allows the petitioning couple to divide their assets and make arrangements for issues such as spousal maintenance, child support, custody, and physical placement. In essence, going through a legal separation allows a couple to arrange their lives as if they are no longer married without actually being divorced. If the two ultimately decide to make their separated circumstances permanent, they can agree to ask the court for a divorce. After one year of being legally separated, either party can request that the court convert the separation into a divorce judgment.
You Agreed to Separate for Different Reasons
A couple may be choosing to separate rather than divorce for religious reasons or because it’s the only affordable way for one partner to maintain health insurance coverage. In that case, both people may have agreed to permanently separate without finalizing their divorce. However, in other situations, a married couple may decide to separate while leaving the possibility of reconciliation open.
If one partner’s goal is to separate and work on the marriage, and the other only agrees to the separation to pacify the other, their time apart will be pointless. Further, when the spouse who wanted separation figures out that the other spouse hasn’t been honest or making an effort, they will probably be hurt and resentful. If you think you and your spouse had different goals for the separation and one of you really wants a divorce, it’s probably time to consider moving forward with the divorce process.
You Separated with Unrealistic Expectations
You may have physically separated to take a break from the stress of conflict between you and your spouse. Initially, living in separate spaces is likely to feel less oppressive. That being said, moving away from one another is a geographic solution. Changing your physical address won’t necessarily repair your relationship or be therapeutic for you. If you moved out thinking that a few months in your own place would teach your partner a lesson or fix your problems, this might not have been a realistic plan. When and if you decide to move back in together, if you have not worked on your relationship, you will most likely be facing the same problems as before. While you are apart, you may want to consider why you separated in the first place. If you can’t see a way to resolve the issues that led to the separation, it may be time to leave the relationship.
Your “Temporary Separation” is Becoming Long-Term
Ideally, being out of your living situation can help both people gain perspective and clarity. Over time, it may become evident that separating did not bring you closer or repair your relationship. You may also recognize that you both feel better as individuals when you are not together as a couple.
The separation process is unique to those involved. There is no set timetable, and the stages will unfold according to each couple’s specific circumstances. Weeks can turn into months and months to years. However, if your temporary separation is starting to look like a permanent condition, it may be time to face the fact that you are ready to divorce.
You Are Alone in the Relationship
Being in a relationship takes effort and an emotional commitment. It’s not enough to go through the motions of a marriage. Feeling alone when you are married to someone can damage your self-esteem and lead to unhealthy relationship dynamics. If you feel alienated from your spouse and have been thinking about divorce, it may be time to consider moving forward. Being on your own is likely to feel far better than being in a relationship where you don’t have emotional intimacy with your spouse.
Your Kids are Probably Not Okay
There are unhappily married people who will tell you that they are “staying together for the children.” Depending on their ages, children can be significantly impacted by their parents’ divorce. However, living in a home where there is constant conflict is also damaging for children. Kids are often far more aware of what is going on in their homes than their parents realize. When there is tension or fighting, they can internalize the stress. Additionally, on a subconscious level, your unhappy relationship model is the one that the children will come to recognize as “normal,” and possibly perpetuate for themselves.
Yes, divorce is painful for kids. But so is living in a home with parents who are miserable with one another. Parents who cannot work out their problems can choose to set aside their differences and divorce with as little conflict as possible. This will minimize stress on children and help foster a more positive co-parenting dynamic.
Attorney and mediator Karyn Youso of First Look Family Law has extensive experience assisting clients during divorce and can help you determine your next steps. Please contact us to schedule a consultation.