Thinking of doing an in-house separation with your spouse? You should consider the following:
Many clients ask my associates, Brianna and Sharon, and me if they must maintain a traditional or two household separation or if they can remain under the same roof during the mandatory six month or one year parties must be separated under Virginia law. Virginia courts have begun to recognize these separations known as “in-house” separations, but only if the parties establish a second household under a single roof.
The three of us have compiled the below a list of factors a Virginia court may consider when determining whether or not the parties have established separate households. Parties should attempt to check off as many of the factors as possible even though no one factor is determinative, except for sexual relations between the parties. Remember a party must demonstrate a continuous intent to permanently separate beginning on the parties’ separation date and continue for the next six months, if the parties have no minor children and have reached a separation agreement, or one year.
Additionally, be prepared to explain to the court your reason(s) for carrying out your separation under the same roof. For example, one such explanation is that you or your spouse cannot financially afford to maintain two separate households during the divorce. Another explanation is that the two of you agreed to remain under one roof in order to begin the transition of parenting separately due to the effects of the divorce on your child(ren).
Separating Between the Parties
Here are some factors to establish the separation between you and your spouse.
- Establish separated bedrooms.
- Establish separate common areas within the household if possible.
- Establish times when each party may exclusively use certain common area, such as the kitchen, laundry room, etc. within the household if possible.
- Establish separate entrances to the household if possible.
- Do not have romantic or sexual relations.
- Do not wear wedding rings.
- Do not give gifts to each other for special occasions, including anniversaries, holidays, and birthdays.
Separating Marital Responsibilities and Obligations Between the Parties
Here are some factors to establish separate financial personal obligations between you and your spouse.
- Establish separate checking accounts.
- Pay your own personal expenses, such as gym memberships, dry cleaning, and eating-out.
- Do your own household chores, such as cleaning your areas of the household, doing your own grocery shopping, preparing your own meals, and doing your own laundry.
- Do not shop for your spouse; only shop for your child(ren).
- If you have a child or children, then do not eat meals together as a family unless the meal is focused around the child(ren), such as holidays and birthdays.
Informing Third Parties about the Separation
As with traditional or two household separations, you must have a third party be a witness to corroborate or establish your separation with your spouse under Virginia law.
- Tell friends, neighbors, and family members that the two of you are living separately, but doing so under the same roof.
- Have a friend or family member visit the household on a regular basis so that he or she may personally observe that you and your spouse are living in separate and distinct areas in the household.
- If you have a nanny or domestic helper who is in the household at least a few times a week, then tell them you are separating from your spouse and inform them of your separate bedrooms and areas within the household as well as any schedules when you have your child(ren).
- Having third parties know of your separation if you do attend social activities with your spouse in public aids in corroborating that you attended such social activities as being separated from your spouse should your spouse attempt to challenge the date of your separation.
Socializing Separately in Public
Here are some factors to establish when you are interacting with your spouse outside the household.
- Do not socialize with each other. This means you cannot attend parties together, go to movies together, or have dinner dates together. If you do attend parties or other social events together, make sure that at least some of the guests are aware of your separation.
- Do not walk your dog together if neighbors are not aware that you and your spouse have been separated as your neighbors may see you socializing as spouses.
- Do not attend church or religious service together. If you attend the same church or religious service do not sit together and come separately to the service.
- Do not attend family events together, including holidays and funerals. If you both are attending the same event, then come separately and make sure that at least some of your family members and guests are aware of your separation.
- If you have a child or children, interact with each other as only parents when situations arise concerning your child(ren)’s well-being. Such situations would include attending school meetings and doctors’ appointments.
- Do not attend your child(ren)’s extracurricular activities with each other and do not sit next to each other at these activities if you both attend. If you do attend activities together, make sure that the other parents, coaches, etc. are aware of your separation.