Many couples who are having serious problems choose to separate rather than move immediately to divorce. This can give them time apart and some space before they determine whether to legally end the marriage. Some couples’ religious beliefs prevent them from ever divorcing.

One financial expert cautions people who separate for more than a few months to take steps to protect themselves. Whether you decide to go through with the divorce or not, this is a wise move.

Why You Should Have a Separation Agreement

It’s best have a separation agreement drawn up by a family law attorney. Since you and your spouse are still legally married, you need to protect yourself financially and detail the terms of your separation. Your separation agreement should codify things like who is responsible for debts incurred while you’re living apart, who will pay the bills, and whether spousal and/or child support is necessary.

It’s also essential to know about your spouse’s income, investments, retirement and bank accounts, and spending. This is especially important if you haven’t been the one handling the finances.

You are responsible for any accounts, credit cards and loans that have your name on them. Don’t let your spouse ruin your credit rating. You’ll need a good credit score more than ever if you go out on your own and buy your own car or home, and even if you look for a job. It’s a good idea to close all joint accounts and credit cards. Get some accounts and credit in your own name.

Be Careful About Your Actions

Your attorney will likely caution you to be careful about what you do during this separation, like getting involved in a new relationship or sharing photos and thoughts on social media. Even if you believe that you and your spouse will eventually reconcile, he or she may be planning for divorce. Don’t do anything that will threaten your settlement or request for child custody.

Be careful about your spending -- particularly if it involves money or credit cards that belong to both of you. Your spouse can accuse you of dissipating assets. Further, watch his or her spending, as your spouse may be doing just that.

It’s best not to get involved in a new relationship, and watch what you share on social media. Even photos and posts you may consider innocuous can be used against you.

Separation can put people in a confusing state of limbo. However, it’s crucial that you take steps to protect yourself legally and financially.