So, what goes into a controlled separation agreement? What do you need to cover in the agreement to give this separation its best chance of success? In this post, I’ve outlined several areas of consideration. Some may apply to you, some may not. Take what fits and simply leave anything that doesn’t – this needs to work for you and your family. This outline is meant as a helpful way to get starting thinking about what your agreement will look like, but it is only an example.
Controlled Separation Agreement Section 1
This section includes the general overview of your controlled separation agreement. You’ll take a look at why you’re going to separate, the time frame for the separation, and the agreement to hold off on divorce.
What do you see as the reason for entering into this agreement? Are you both on the same page with regard to working on your marriage or not during the separation? How will you know if your separation was successful or not? What do you want this separation to accomplish?
When will your separation start? When will it end? Typically controlled separations can be 3 months, 6 months or even a year. The length of time is up to you and will depend heavily on your purpose, outlined above.
Clarity Around Legal Counsel
It’s a good idea to agree that neither party will initiate or move forward with divorce proceedings during the separation time frame. However, both of you are entitled to legal advice at any point. Will this entitlement be written into your contract? If you seek legal counsel, will you choose collaborative divorce attorneys or general family law attorneys? Would you like to involve a divorce coach or mediator? Do some research into these options before making your decisions, because your options will be influenced by your particular needs.
Controlled Separation Agreement Section 2
This section focuses on outlining the specifics about how this will actually happen. It addresses a lot of the logistics necessary to going through with a separation – the topics listed here are suggestions and as you brainstorm you might find that your situation requires additional topics.
Who will be living where? What are the options? Generally, a separation involves living separately, and many couples will prefer this option, but because this is not necessarily a legal separation it’s not required. Take a look at what might work for your circumstances, particularly if you have kids. It can be a good idea to include an intended timeline in this section: who will be looking for what living arrangement when? What is the goal date for living separately to begin? Do the other terms of this agreement not begin until one party has moved out? If so, which ones?
Keeping two residences will require two sets of some things, but division of the belongings and furnishings you currently have should be done in as equitable a way as possible. How will you divide what you already own so that everything is distributed between the two of you? Be as clear as possible with regard to what will being going where.
Wrapped up in the conversation about the living arrangement is a conversation about finances. Splitting up the income(s) previously used for one household to cover two can be challenging – though you would be doing this if you were deciding to divorce as well. Will the bank accounts stay the same? Direct deposits? Will one party give the other a check on a regular basis? What does the budget look like for this new living situation? Will there be expenses that need to be cut to make this work?
If you have kids, their well-being needs to be of primary importance throughout this separation. How will you talk to them about the separation? How will you each handle any follow up questions they might have, especially if their questions are directed to one of you or the other. Also, deciding on a custody arrangement that keeps their relationships with each of you and their routines as stable as possible. Will there need to be a new schedule created and followed? How will the two of you discuss your continuing co-parenting responsibilities?
Controlled Separation Agreement Section 3
This section is all about relationships – between yourselves and your friends and family, between one another, and between other people outside your relationship. You’ll think about how you want to talk to important people in your life about your separation, if at all, and you’ll figure out how you will relate to one another during the separation.
You will need to decide who should know about your separation, when they should be told, and how they will be told. Use this section to decide what you want the narrative of your separation to be for others (perhaps using your purpose from section 1) and who specifically should be informed. It may be helpful to discuss and include any preferences for talking about one another with mutual friends or family members. Keep in mind that disparaging remarks to kids, friends, or family members can have a lasting impact on them even if the two of you repair your relationship and move forward.
How often will the two of you discuss continued responsibilities? Will you handle this over the phone, via email, or in person? Will you be scheduling intentional time to get together to work on your relationship? Will you meet together with the kids for family outings? How frequently will you communicate with one another just in general? Going over your expectations for your continuing relationship and any intentional relationship repair activities, e.g. couple’s therapy, is important here.
Are either of you dating others during your separation? If there has been an affair, will there be any contact between affair partners? Being very clear about these points is important to avoid hurtful miscommunication.
Controlled Separation Agreement Section 4
This section will wrap up your controlled separation agreement. You’ll explore what kind(s) of outside support you’re open to and, if you are, how you both agree those interactions should go. You’ll finalize your contract, making accommodations for any changes to the agreement, and what to do after your separation ends.
Are there any support persons that you are wanting to hold you accountable and check in with you during the separation? Will these support persons be primarily for one or the other of you, or will they be supporting you as a couple?
Will you involve any professional support throughout your separation? You may have already decided to involve some professional support to assist you in drafting this agreement, but will you continue with this support? This may be ongoing couple’s therapy or regular meetings with your pastor/spiritual advisor, or may be scheduled check ins with a mediator to assist you with reviewing the agreement. What do you agree to commit to with regard to interactions with this professional support? If you are seeing a therapist, do you both commit to doing the homework requested and attending regular sessions? How often? If you are meeting with a pastor/spiritual advisor, are you also in agreement about taking this person’s advice and suggestions about your path?
In this section, you’ll want to be clear that both of you are agreeing to the terms within and that changes to the agreement can be made when mutually agreed upon. You may want to establish some guidelines here for how you will handle any disagreement on a proposed change or interpretation of the agreement. How regularly will you sit down together to discuss your satisfaction with the contract itself and to check in about any potential changes? Or will this kind of conversation not happen unless requested by one of you?
Include a section at the end of this agreement that outlines your next steps after your separation ends. Think back to your initial purpose for the separation and what you hope it will accomplish. What is your next step once this purpose is achieved? What the next step will be if your purpose is not achieved? How will you know which outcome you’ve had? This section should be specific enough that at the end of your separation, you will not have any sense of “well, now what?”
This is a lot of information to cover and it’s okay if it takes more than one sitting to work out all the details. Read more about the process of creating a controlled separation agreement here.
You can also find more information on controlled separation throughout this blog. If you’re interested in speaking with me in more depth about your particular situation and how a controlled separation might fit for your life and your relationship, all you have to do is contact me for a free 30-minute consultation at my office. I’d love to help you figure out the right next step!
Nicole Stone, MS LMFT is a relationship-minded and marriage-friendly therapist passionate about working with adults and couples facing anxiety, relationship crisis, and the divorce/separation experience. She offers individual, couple, and group therapy services in the North Raleigh, NC area.