Divorce is a big step, and most couples don't go straight from being married to filing divorce papers. Many go through a separation, or a trial period to decide if both parties will be happier apart. While South Carolina doesn't grant legal separations, the state does provide a decree of separate maintenance and support. Discover how to navigate this challenging time.
Filing the Decree of Separate Maintenance and Support
A decree or order of separate maintenance covers the finances, benefits, and child-related issues of both parties. The decree, which is the first step to obtaining a no-fault divorce, is meant to cover a temporary situation until the divorce case can be resolved.
One of the spouses starts the procedure by filing a Summons and Complaint for an Order of Separate Maintenance and Support in a family court. The spouse who files this summons is known as the plaintiff in the case. The plaintiff also files a Notice and Motion for Temporary Relief, which covers the stipulations for finances, benefits, and child-related issues.
The summons and notice get served to the other spouse, who's known as the defendant in the case. The defendant has 30 days to file an official answer to the complaint and a counterclaim to the Motion for Temporary Relief. At that time, a judge presides over the case and comes up with an agreement for separate maintenance and support.
At that point, one of two things happen. One, the plaintiff and defendant can continue to negotiate to come up with a final agreement for this separation time period. Otherwise, they can maintain the court-mandated agreement until their divorce goes to trial.
Making the Process as Smooth as Possible
People entering into a separation usually don't feel the same level of cooperation as a married couple still planning a future together. The situation can become exacerbated as they become the plaintiff and defendant in their divorce case. However, there are certain ways to minimize some of the pain.
Communication may have been one of the big breakdowns in the marriage, but it has to become a central tenet of the separation process. The key is in how you view the separation. Don't think of it as a battleground or a space where there's right and wrong. Instead, try to find common ground. If this seems impossible, consider hiring an outside mediator.
Even if you forego the mediator, treat negotiations as a business dealing. Set up an official appointment, complete with the topics to be discussed. While you're preparing for the meeting, write down your discussion points — refer back to them at unemotional times to ensure the language is similarly unemotional. Use these talking points during your official meeting.
Navigating Separation With Children
You can find books and articles galore on how to navigate divorce with children. However, you should try to minimize the stress from the beginning.
When you sit with your co-parent to hammer out the details of the decree of separate maintenance, try to be as fair as possible concerning custody and visitation. The ultimate goal should be the best interest of the children, not the parents. To that end, be prepared to give ground if it's in your children’s interest.
Be as honest with your children as possible concerning the separation. Don't be emotional, and never blame the other parent, as that causes conflict with children. Instead, just stick to the facts, such as changes in living arrangements.
In that vein, try to minimize the disruption to your children’s daily lives. The ideal scenario is that they stay in the same home, attend the same school, and partake in the same activities. Be consistent with all their routines from the outset. Here is where you may have to remind yourself to act in the best interests of the children.
Going through a separation and a divorce is not fun. If you think you should file a decree of separate maintenance and support, contact the experts at Paul A. Meding, P.A., Attorney at Law.