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Common Pitfalls: What Not to Do During Separation

couple signing papers for legal separation

Going through a separation? It’s crucial to know what not to do during separation to avoid common pitfalls that can complicate the process. This article highlights key mistakes to steer clear of, helping you maintain your mental health, legal standing, and familial relationships.

Key Takeaways

  • Avoid moving out of the family home, as it can impact property claims and child custody rights.

  • Do not engage in new relationships during the separation period to avoid emotional stress and potential legal complications.

  • Consult with an experienced lawyer before signing any documents to ensure your rights and interests are protected.


Imagine standing at the edge of a cliff, the ground beneath you crumbling, and the horizon obscured by fog. This is the precipice of legal separation, a court-ordered parting of spouses that leaves them legally separated while still being legally married, dividing the life built together. It’s a labyrinth of legal, emotional, and financial complexities, a path that requires careful navigation to avoid falling into common traps that await the unwary during marital separation.

In California, the law offers a six-month minimum waiting period after legal separation—a time not just mandated by legislation but often a critical cooling-off period that can lead to reconciliation or a more amicable divorce. But whether you find yourself in the Golden State or elsewhere, understanding the common pitfalls of this interim phase, also known as a trial separation, is key to emerging with your well-being and relationships intact.

Don’t Move Out of the Family Home

Living room with family members

The family home is more than just a structure of walls and a roof; it’s a repository of shared memories and the foundational setting for family dynamics. In the throes of separation, it may seem easier to pack your bags and seek refuge under a different roof, far away from tension and heartache. However, this step can significantly affect your claims to the property and, more importantly, your child custody rights.

Maintaining the status quo in the marital or matrimonial home isn’t just about staying put; it’s about safeguarding your role within the family law system and preserving the environment that family members, especially minor children, have always known. Before you consider setting up separate homes, explore alternative living arrangements within your current space that can provide a sense of continuity for everyone involved.

Avoid New Relationships

In the wake of marriage separation, the heart yearns for solace, often leading one down the path of new relationships. While the desire for companionship is natural, these rebound relationships can be fraught with unnecessary stress and can complicate future relationships. It’s a common pitfall that can extend divorce proceedings, hike up legal costs, and, in some states, even affect the legal status of children born during this unsettled period.

Moreover, a new relationship can be emotionally draining, not just for you but for your family members who may still be grappling with the changes. It can provoke a maelstrom of emotions in your estranged spouse, potentially derailing amicable negotiations and clouding your focus on the best path forward for yourself and your family.

Don’t Sign Anything Without Legal Advice

Consulting with a lawyer for legal advice

Imagine being offered a seemingly innocent document to sign during your separation—a certain bill, a simple divorce agreement, nothing to worry about, right? Wrong. Without the guidance of an experienced lawyer, you might as well be navigating a minefield blindfolded. Signing documents without understanding the full legal implications can be a costly error, compromising your rights to property, spousal support, and even child custody.

Legal advice is the shield that safeguards you from unwittingly agreeing to unfair or unfavorable conditions. An experienced lawyer will ensure that you make wise decisions, considering the division of assets, financial support, and your obligations and responsibilities during this transitional time.

Refrain from Bad-Mouthing Your Partner

Parent refraining from bad-mouthing partner in front of children

The end of a relationship can unleash a torrent of emotions, and it’s tempting to let them spill over in the form of bad-mouthing your partner. However, when one spouse unleashes a tirade against the other, especially in front of the kids, it not only damages the chances of retaining open communication but can also harm custody rights. Children absorb much more than we realize, and they can internalize the negativity, leading to emotional upheaval and self-blame.

A marriage counselor might suggest the following strategies for maintaining a healthy relationship and protecting your children from unnecessary emotional stress:

  • Channel frustrations into a journal rather than letting them loose in front of the children.

  • Maintain a united front with your spouse.

  • Focus on all the positives in your relationship.

  • Preserve good intentions for your spouse.

By implementing these strategies when becoming legally separated, you can give your relationship a fair chance and create a more positive environment for your children.

Don’t Deny Co-Parenting Rights

Co-parenting and spending time with children

During the turbulence of separation, it’s essential to remember that both parents are pillars in the structure of their children’s world. Denying or limiting the other parent’s right to co-parent can lead to a shaky foundation for your kids during an already tumultuous time. The law typically affords equal rights to both parents regarding their minor children, and any deviation from this should only occur through a court’s decision.

Co-parenting under the same roof or through a shared custody arrangement ensures a semblance of normalcy. It allows your children to spend time with both parents without feeling torn between two worlds. This equal time sharing is crucial for their emotional stability and well-being, minimizing the chances of them shouldering the weight of the separation.

Avoid Large Purchases or Disposing of Assets

Navigating the choppy waters of separation calls for wise decisions, especially regarding finances. It may be tempting to splurge on large purchases or to rid yourself of shared assets, but these actions can muddy the waters of marital property division. Such decisions should be postponed until a separation agreement is firmly in place, ensuring that living expenses and assets are divided fairly and transparently.

Remember, disposing of physical assets without mutual consent is not just frowned upon; it’s a legal misstep that can lead to misunderstandings and complications. To avoid these financial pitfalls, it’s best to formalize a legally binding separation agreement that clarifies asset division and protects both parties’ interests.

Keep Friends and Family Out of Decisions

While turning to friends and family for support during trying times is natural, involving them in the intricate decisions of separation is a precarious path. Their well-meaning but unsolicited advice can be influenced by emotions and personal experiences, and might not always serve your best interests. It’s a common mistake that can lead to strained relationships and a more difficult separation process.

Decide to keep these personal matters at a distance from family gatherings and friendly chats. Their involvement can become emotionally charged, potentially leading to confrontations with your spouse. Instead, it’s wiser to choose legal separation and seek legal advice and professional guidance to ensure a united front in navigating the legal and emotional complexities of separation.

Maintain Open Communication with Your Spouse

The silence between separating spouses can be deafening, but it’s the communication within that silence that often holds the key to resolving marital conflicts. Open communication is the bridge that connects two people adrift, possibly leading to the restoration of the marriage. Setting guidelines for communication can help eliminate doubt and confusion, while consistent routines show a commitment to working through issues.

Active listening and equitable conversation time can reinforce the marital bond, even in separation. Whether you communicate via text, email, or phone calls, it’s essential to be clear and respectful, especially when discussing arrangements for the kids. Remember, open communication isn’t just about solving problems; it’s about retaining a connection that could lead to reconciliation or, at the very least, an amicable separation.

Take Care of Your Mental Health

Practicing self-care for mental well-being

Separation can be emotionally draining, leaving your mental health on shaky ground. It’s crucial to acknowledge that feelings of sadness, anger, and frustration are part of the process and will diminish over time. Embracing self-care is not a luxury; it’s a necessity. Allow yourself time to recharge, and don’t hesitate to scale back on commitments if it aids in your recovery.

Invest in your physical and mental health by engaging in hobbies, exercising, and connecting with supportive friends and family. Avoid using substances as a crutch; they only lead to more problems. Instead, focus on personal growth and maintaining a positive mindset. If the emotional upheaval becomes too much, seeking the help of a therapist or counselor can be the best medicine.

Don’t Rush Towards Divorce

Rushing towards the finality of divorce can be likened to taking a leap without looking. It’s a decision fraught with irreversible consequences that should not be influenced by the heightened emotions of the moment. Taking time during the separation process allows for reflection, personal growth, and, potentially, reconciliation.

Consider mediation as a way to navigate the complexities of separation and divorce agreements. It’s a space where you can voice your needs and concerns, work through irreconcilable differences, and come to an understanding without the pressure and expense of litigation. The path of separation is not a race to the finish line; it’s a journey that requires patience and careful consideration.


As we conclude this guide through the potential pitfalls of separation, remember that the choices made during this trying time can have lasting effects on your life and the lives of those you hold dear. By remaining in the family home, refraining from new relationships, seeking legal advice, and communicating openly, you not only protect your rights but also pave the way for a future that, though different, can be just as fulfilling. Let this period be one of thoughtful deliberation and personal growth, not hasty decisions and regret.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long is the waiting period after a legal separation in California?

In California, the waiting period after legal separation is a minimum of six months.

Can dating during separation affect child custody decisions?

Dating during separation can have a negative impact on child custody decisions and legal proceedings.

Why should I avoid signing documents without legal advice during separation?

You should avoid signing documents without legal advice during separation as it can compromise your rights and lead to agreeing to unfair settlement terms, particularly concerning property and child custody. Be cautious and seek legal counsel to protect your interests.

Is it harmful to bad-mouth my partner in front of our children during separation?

Bad-mouthing your partner in front of your children during separation can harm your custody rights and negatively affect your children’s emotional well-being. It’s important to prioritize their well-being during this difficult time.

What are the benefits of maintaining open communication with my spouse during separation?

Maintaining open communication with your spouse during separation can facilitate potential reconciliation, help resolve conflicts amicably, and ensure clarity and respect in discussions, especially regarding arrangements for children. This can contribute to a smoother transition and better co-parenting.

Charles M. Green is Certified as a California Family Law Specialist through the Board of Legal Specialization of the State Bar of California. He has worked extensively in both financial accounting fields and as a litigation attorney specializing in Family Law Cases. He is also diversely experienced in a number of other legal practice areas of importance to individuals, families, and businesses.

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