Most celebrity commentaries today feature the News that one of Hollywood’s golden couples, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas, have announced a separation or “break” from their 13-year marriage whilst they struggle to deal with various difficulties which have arisen in their relationship.
It is not uncommon for couples to have a trial separation, prior to deciding whether or not there should be a permanent separation and/or a Divorce. This can be either on an informal or formal basis.
On an informal basis, a couple simply separate without regulating formally the terms on which they do so. This means financial matters between them, for example, remain unaffected and in law, they are treated as though they are still in a married unit. For many people, this is a perfectly satisfactory way to deal with matters, but can sometimes, lead to difficulties, especially in relation to financial matters.
Some couples wish to ensure that there is no disagreement or confusion in relation to the financial effects of their separation either at the time, or further down the line if they elect to make the split permanent. This can be achieved by way of a Deed of Separation, which is a formal document setting out what will happen to the matrimonial assets at the time of separation and if applicable, in the future. Whilst not binding in the same way as a final order obtained in a divorce, it can be very useful.
A further option for separated couples is to obtain a Judicial Separation which, is in many ways a half-way house between being married and being divorced in that it confirms in law that the parties are separated (albeit still technically married). Judicial Separation is rarely necessary for couples taking a break, such as Catherine and Michael, but can be important for people who, for example, envisage their separation will be very long-term but do not wish to divorce for religious or other reasons.
A separation, whether trial or permanent is often a difficult and confusing time, and one in which there is a lot of uncertainty. Legal advice can help couples to regulate the terms on which they are living apart, and hopefully reduce difficulties at the time of any subsequent divorce. It can also help people deciding whether to remain married and make an informed decision about their options. Many people view seeing a lawyer as a final step, but this need not be the case and for some, it can help them make the decision to save their relationship.
By Family Law Solicitor Cara Nuttall