Family Law

The Value of a Separation Agreement

An article from the Huffington Post this morning illustrates the value of hiring a competent Arkansas family lawyer to draft a separation agreement before one party makes the decision to file for divorce. In this situation, a carefully drafted separation agreement would go a long way toward reconciling the marriage.

The Story

The article is entitled “Marriage Counseling Made My Relationship Worse.” The article’s opening lines are startling:

“Does anyone have a good experience with marriage counseling? I hope so. In my experience, marriage counseling actually made things worse.”

Over the course of the article, the author candidly explains her experiences with marriage counseling during her two marriages, concluding that her efforts were wasted. According to her, the sessions were “like paying someone to referee a knockdown, fist-flailing hate fest where saying anything to each other—even truly horrible statements—is supposed to bring you enlightened understanding and emotional intimacy.”

I do not know the author, nor do I know if her marriage counselor was competent. I do know, however, that many people are able to reconcile during marriage counseling, and I would always encourage struggling couples to pursue counseling as a first option.

But I also have to confess that in my experience as an Arkansas family lawyer, she is probably right. Marriage counseling is often a bloodbath where the parties accomplish nothing but further alienating each other. Honesty is crucial to a successful marriage, but, frankly, sometimes there are issues that are better dealt with in private.

What I found most interesting about the article is the alternative path that the author and her spouse have chosen. Having deciding to forgo the counseling bloodbath, her and her husband have simply decided to take a break from each each other:

“After four months of not seeing each other and communicating sporadically by email, we decided to meet for a weekend halfway between here and there. No relationship talk, no divorce filing talk, just topics that we were strong enough to handle in our broken state.”

According to her, the weekend was a success and they have already planned another similar meeting. I don’t know if she will keep her readers updated on the outcome, but I am hopeful that the chance to meet on friendlier terms will allow them to rekindle their relationship and ultimately reconcile.

What Does This Have to Do with a Separation Agreement?

For my purposes as an Arkansas family lawyer, I can see the need to have a competent, careful attorney review the situation and, representing one of the parties, come up with a separation agreement that is specifically geared toward reconciliation. There are many situations where a couple doesn’t need counseling together; instead, they may simply need time apart. But it is important that the time apart is structured properly so that each spouse knows what to expect from the other. That is where a separation agreement becomes so valuable. Simply “taking a break” from a spouse is almost never a good idea if the parties want to make a concerted effort at getting back together.

A solid separation agreement can set out the specific goals for the separation by “beginning with the end in mind.” Financial frustration is a leading cause of divorce, and a separation is unlikely to work if each party is worried about money. A separation agreement can set those issues in stone and make sure that the terms of the separation are clear. A separation agreement can also specify housing and custody arrangements to eliminate potential conflict on that front.

A separation agreement can be a powerful tool for restoring a marriage. The time and expense required for the agreement pales in comparison to that required for a divorce and, more importantly, avoids the tremendous emotional damage of a divorce.

About the Author
Charlie Cunningham

Charlie C. Cunningham

Lawyer

Born, raised, and educated entirely in Arkansas, Charlie is passionate about helping Arkansas families through the court system. As a DHS attorney throughout the State, Charlie has helped hundreds of children, parents, and adults achieve positive outcomes through appropriate DHS agencies and services. Charlie understands the seriousness of any legal proceeding that involves someone’s child or loved one, and his…

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