Have You Reconciled With Your Ex?

Besides obtaining a divorce, the date a couple separates can have a significant impact on equitable distribution of marital assets and debts, child support and alimony. When a married couple decides to call it quits, there is some date they separated.  But when is it? The answer is not always as simple as it sounds. There is a myth that people can’t be separated for purposes of divorce until they have something on paper. That is not the case. In North Carolina, if parties stop living together, and at least one intends the separation to be permanent, they are separated. Physically living apart is a requirement, however. Living in the same home in different rooms or out-buildings such as the garage or “man cave” is usually not enough. Despite what was portrayed in the War of the Roses movie when one duct taped a line down one-half of the house, you can’t do it that way here if your goal is to seek a divorce.

The State Policy

From the viewpoint of the public policy behind this one year waiting period, marriages should be fostered and divorce should be discouraged to some extent.  A waiting period gives spouses time to cool off after a major dispute. The courts would no doubt be much busier if there was no waiting period and either party could apply for a divorce on Monday morning after a fight on Friday night. There is debate about whether the year-long waiting period prevents divorces, thereby preserving marriages. The requirement that at least one of the parties intend for the separation to be permanent makes sense when you think about happily married people who are physically separated because of military service or because one of them spends an extended period of time in the hospital, for example.

What If We Try to Work Things Out?

Another question in determining whether you are separated for the purpose of divorce is whether you have made any efforts to reconcile. If a couple reconciles, meaning they return to the husband and wife relationship they had before the separation, they are no longer separated. If they reconcile and later decide to separate again, the one year wait begins from that second date of separation. Years ago, the one year period of separation required to seek a divorce would start over if the parties had intercourse.  Now, the law says that an isolated act of intercourse will not start the clock over again but beyond that, it is not always clear at what point they reconciled or separated. Reconciliation and making efforts to work things out can lead to one of the spouses moving back into the home, which is almost always viewed as reconciling in legal terms. There is no black and white answer on whether the actions of a couple between those two extremes would require the one year waiting period to begin all over again. The court looks at the circumstances of each case when the date of separation is disputed.

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