Drafting and executing a controlled separation agreement is no small challenge. It can seem daunting at first, but here are some steps that will hopefully help you to make your process more effective. If you need additional help, please feel free to contact me for a free 30 minute consultation.

Step 1 – Who Should Be Involved in Writing Your Controlled Separation Agreement?

The first thing to consider when coming to the table to write your controlled separation agreement is who should join you. Of course, both partners should be involved in deciding the terms of the agreement. It can also be very helpful to come up with a list – even if it’s a short one – of the people you have or want in your life to help you through this. This can include trusted friends, a therapist or counselor, a pastor or spiritual leader, or a divorce coach or mediator. Each of these people will bring different elements to the table that may be beneficial.

When considering who to invite, think through each person’s character traits and qualifications. Drafting a controlled separation agreement can be emotionally taxing, so you may want someone who you know will be supportive no matter what. It may be useful to have people there who understand that this is not about taking sides, and who are able to keep their opinions to themselves at the appropriate times. Having people involved who will help to maintain a business-like atmosphere between yourself and your partner may also be helpful, because disagreements over details are best handled diplomatically.

Involving a professional who has experience with the development and execution of an agreement such as this is worth considering. If you’re primarily concerned about keeping the actual experience of developing the controlled separation agreement as positive as possible, perhaps consider asking a professional for help in the drafting stage. A counselor, therapist, mediator, or divorce coach may have experience with helping couples reach challenging agreements. If your primary goal is to save your marriage by making changes in your relationship, you may want to find a counselor, therapist or pastor who can work with you throughout the duration of the agreement.

Step 2 – Create and Discuss the Topics You Want to Cover in Your Controlled Separation Agreement

There are several areas that will need to be addressed in your agreement and decided on together before you’ll be able to effectively execute the agreement. I’ve outlined specific recommendations for what to include in your controlled separation agreement in another blog post – check it out! That post will provide a list of the topics worth considering and addressing.

Discussing and arriving at an agreement on these topics, however, is likely to be challenging. Here are my suggestions for getting through drafting your agreement successfully.

Define Your Purpose

The absolute first step – and one that needs to have some space dedicated in the agreement itself – is to outline your purpose for setting up this controlled separation. It may be helpful to give this some thought individually as well as together, since this section of your agreement needs to ring true for both of you. Ask yourselves this: What do we want this separation to accomplish?

Get Your Ideas Down

This initial brainstorming is just that – a brainstorm. Keep in mind that this is not the final draft and that there are no “bad” ideas at this point. Brainstorming can be done together or separately, as well. Some partners find that it works best to throw all the ideas on the table at once, while others prefer to spend time thinking on their own first, then coming to the table. There is no right or wrong way to do this, but it is helpful to agree first to the process of “how we will approach this brainstorm.”

Put the Ideas on the Table and Sift Through

There will likely be some ideas that both of you agree can be crossed off the list right away. Other ideas will probably have support from one partner and not the other – put those in a specific category, perhaps labeled “Needs Compromise.” With luck, there will be a few that both of you agree on and can be circled to plan for inclusion in the final draft.

This is a point in the process where it can be very helpful to have outside support to help keep you on track. The role of this support person in this part of the process would be to help to keep things moving along – you don’t want to get stuck discussing (or arguing) about one point while you’re trying to get some basic categorizing of options done.

Take Breaks as Needed to Avoid Arguments

This doesn’t have to be completed in one sitting. Once you reach the point in the process where you and your partner are discussing compromises and logistics that remain to be figured out, it’s important to maintain an attitude of open-mindedness and creativity. This attitude can get bogged down very quickly when we experience intense emotions. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, stop. Put it down. Decide that you will come back to the process at x time (do set this intention verbally with one another) and make sure that x time gives you enough time to calm down/cool off.

Hear the Other Person’s Perspective Before Sharing Your Own

This is probably going to be the most challenging part of writing the agreement. If you’re considering divorce, it’s likely that doing this in general is difficult for you as a couple. This is another aspect of the process that is made quite a bit easier by having a support person involved, particularly one trained in therapy, counseling, or mediation. This support person should be able to do a lot of effective listening and be able to maintain a diplomatic, business-like process.

Step 3 – Finalize and Execute Your Controlled Separation Agreement

To finalize and execute your controlled separation, it can help to include timelines where appropriate in your agreement. For example, if one of you has decided to move out, have a date set to begin looking for an alternate living arrangement, a date by which you want to have this arrangement secured, and an estimate of the move out date. This helps to guide the process after you have both signed the agreement.

If you come to points where execution of your agreement is not working for one or both of you, it can be appropriate to revise your agreement as needed. It can be a living document in the sense of addressing needs as they arise and changing to accommodate unforeseen events. Perhaps you will want to specify dates at which you will both intentionally sit down to discuss if there need to be any changes. Things do not always work how we imagine they will, and it’s okay to make changes when that happens. Continuing to be flexible and open to compromise throughout your agreement can be beneficial no matter the ultimate outcome of your separation.

You can 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.