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Second Thoughts About Separating:

Should We Reconcile?

By Amy A. Edwards

After spouses separate, they routinely hire attorneys and begin the negotiation and/or court process, which almost always causes the relationship to further deteriorate. But on occasion, there are couples who separate but then find their way back to each other.

Separating and Reconciling

In North Carolina, if spouses live in separate residences, and at least one of them has the intention to remain separated from the other, they are considered separated. But the law is murky on the topic of what it means to reconcile, resuming the marital relationship and “canceling” the separation. It is decided on a case-by-case basis, and is not proven by isolated incidents of sexual intercourse. NC Gen. Stat. §52-10.2. Although reconciling usually means both spouses moving into the same household together again, there are a number of complicating legal factors to decide whether the spouses have actually reconciled. This means a dispute over whether you have reconciled will probably be expensive.

Why Does it Matter?

The world of family law revolves around the date of separation. The law requires a full one-year separation before either party can file for a divorce. If the spouses separate and then reconcile, the clock starts over again, requiring a one-year-separation. Marital and non-marital assets and debts are defined, classified and valued based on the date of separation. Changing the date of separation by reconciling and separating again at a later date can have a huge financial consequence. Likewise, the date of separation can be critical in alimony and child support cases too. If the parties signed a separation agreement or there were court orders in place when spouses reconciled, that triggers another layer of problems beyond the scope of this article.

What is the Motive for Reconciling?

It can be difficult to know whether the other spouse’s reason for trying to mend their relationship is genuine. People should consider talking with a counselor or other professional who can address the personal relationship between the spouses. Like any other major decision, a spouse should think long and hard about jumping back into the same situation that has already caused so much grief and expense in the first place. 

As for their legal relationship, the first question to ask is whether the other spouse has any legal incentive to reconcile. Fault can be a useful tool in alimony cases. If someone has committed marital fault in the eyes of the law, such as adultery, he or she probably has a good legal reason to seek forgiveness, regardless of whether there is heart-felt regret or even a personal desire to reconcile. 

Serious Consequences

An attorney might advise a spouse to move back into the family home and gain access to confidential information, sneak out personal property like jewelry, or avoid the cost of operating two households while he or she saves money to hire an attorney. Once that spouse feels he or she has the upper-hand, what will be necessary to get him or her out of the house again? That creates new risk for new marital fault, and it will almost certainly cost you more money to address again.

If you are considering a reconciliation, talk with your attorney BEFORE making a final decision. Find out what you can do to protect yourself in the event you reconcile and then separate. There are sometimes agreements that the parties can enter into, or there might be financial strategies to lessen the impact if there is a second separation.  



Amy A. Edwards is a family law attorney at Amy Edwards & Associates, PLLC, in Greenville, NC. She is certified by the NC State Bar Board of Legal Specialization as a Family Law Specialist, and is licensed only in NC. Laws change. This article is current as of 2018. www.NCLawyersForYou.com© 

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