Tips for Living Separate but Apart Under the Same Roof in Virginia

You and your spouse want to separate, but you simply can’t afford to live in two separate homes so now what? When clients are going through divorce in Fairfax County or Prince William County or really just about any other county in Northern Virginia, the cost of living usually prevents a couple from moving out of the home and establishing two separate residences immediately.  While you are separated from your spouse, you can wait out the separation period of 6-months or 1-year (depending on the circumstances in your case) in your home as long as you follow some simple rules as follows:

Establish a separation date

In Virginia, a signed separation agreement is not required to formally separate.  Separation is more informal in Virginia but it does require that you establish a separation date. One party must have an intent to permanently separate and must convey that to the other party. It’s a good idea that after you have conveyed your intent to your spouse that you memorialize it in a text, e-mail, or other form of communication so there won’t be any confusion later as to when it was communicated.  Given how important the date of separation is for the classification of your property and debts, you don’t want there to be any question as to when the separation occurred.

Sleep in separate bedrooms or areas of the house during your Virginia separation

Create a physical separation from your spouse.  Once one of you has conveyed intent to the other, you should physically separate within the marital home.  Ideally, you should move all of your belongings out of the marital bedroom and begin sleeping in another bedroom or dedicated sleeping area.  You should also no longer be engaging in any marital relations.

Stop wearing your wedding ring

Once you have created a date of separation, you should stop wearing your wedding ring.  You want to now hold yourself out to the public as separated so taking off your wedding ring is one major step in the right direction.

Don’t attend family or social gatherings together

This doesn’t mean that you can’t attend your children’s extracurricular, birthday or sports activities together.  You are still living under the same roof and can do the things necessary to properly co-parent your children.  However, you should stop attending holidays like Christmas, Thanksgiving, Eid, Passover, etc. together or other social events together.  This also includes buying gifts for each other to celebrate holidays. This will make it clear to your family and friends that you have formally separated and are no longer living together as a couple.

Open separate bank accounts

Although you may share one joint operating account from which you will pay your household bills while you live under the same roof, because you are separated, any income you earn is considered separate property.  You can fill out new direct deposit forms to have your income deposited in accounts with your sole and separate name.  If you have other joint accounts, you can equally divide those balances, put them into your separate accounts, and close the joint accounts.  That will be one less thing to have to worry about as you try to disentangle your lives.

Don’t go to marital counseling

Because the separation date can be reset by the behavior of the parties, it is wise not to go to marital counseling to work on your issues as it can be seen as an attempt to reconcile.  The one exception to this would be to speak with a counselor to help you determine how to amicably handle the separation and telling your children.  Otherwise, you may end up resetting your separation date which will affect when you may file and the classification of assets.

Do your own chores and cooking

I think this aspect is less important than the other points in this post.  Obviously if you are living within the same home with your children, it will be hard to completely separate the household responsibilities and eating family meals together.  For this tip, I would try as much as possible to keep the laundry, shopping, etc. separate within reason, but also recognize that you are still trying to co-parent your children and keep things easy for them.

Have a third party who can verify for the court that you aren’t back together

Right now, it is more difficult during COVID because people are not really visiting each other’s homes, but at a minimum you can keep in touch with people through text, video, or phone.  When you are going through a divorce in Fairfax or Manassas, you will be required to have a corroborating witness for the court who can confirm for the court that you haven’t reconciled and have lived separate and apart without cohabitation and without interruption for the statutory period.

Draft a Virginia separation agreement

Once you have started the separation process, don’t waste time while you are waiting for the required statutory period to run which would allow you to file for divorce.  Instead, you can get a VA divorce lawyer involved to begin putting together your separation agreement to settle all matters of custody, visitation and support.  If you are able to finalize these issues with a Virginia separation agreement, then when you hit the required statutory period for your separation, the rest of the divorce process is primarily ministerial in nature.

Manassas and Fairfax Divorce Lawyers

Whether you are separating in the home or into two separate residences, you should speak with a family law attorney to discuss how to plan this part of your divorce.  Our firm is available to help you navigate the next steps in your divorce.

Alisa practices family law as a divorce lawyer from the Fairfax and Manassas, Virginia offices in the Circuit and Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Courts for Fairfax County, Prince William County and Loudoun County.