Once you have decided what your conversations will look like, you can move on to the more substantive conversations.

Will we separate and will it be a trial separation or a permanent separation?

Typically one spouse has a greater desire to separate than the other. Raising the possibility of a separation can be a difficult conversation and surprise for the unprepared spouse. If you are the one raising the possibility of a separation, put some thought into how to express why you need the separation.

Avoid blaming your spouse, and, if it’s truthful, express your concern for his or her well-being even though you are raising the possibility of separating.

This conversation often contains some mutual ambivalence about any decision to separate, and it is often a conversation that occurs over a period of time; weeks, even months.

If you and your spouse have a mutual desire to put work into trying to make the marriage healthy again, then marriage counseling is a good next step.

Who will move out of the marital home to begin the separation?

If you choose to separate, then someone must physically move out of the marital residence to begin a period of separation. One year of separation is required in North Carolina before a divorce will be granted.

Having separate bedrooms or living in separate parts of the same house is not considered a separation in North Carolina.

Before moving out of the marital home, it’s a good idea to talk to a collaborative attorney about the ramifications of moving out and whether any temporary agreements or protections would be advisable.

How will we share parenting responsibilities once there are two homes?

When talking about caring for your children after separation, whether with your spouse or as part of a legal process with collaborative attorneys, it’s not necessary to borrow the language from the legal statutes and talk about custody and visitation.

Custody and visitation sounds scary and does not have to be. Talk about how you will share the responsibility for caring for the children. Will they be in one parent’s home most of the time or will the time be evenly shared between parents? With the help of your collaborative attorneys, you will develop a Two-Home Parenting Plan.

A child specialist can be employed in the collaborative process to help you with your children as they grapple with the new transition to two homes.

How will we divide the property, including real estate, retirement accounts and debts, that we’ve accumulated while we were married?

All of the things that were acquired during the years of marriage must be divided in some way. North Carolina is called an equitable distribution state. This means that in general everything acquired during the marriage is considered to be one-half husband’s and one-half wife’s. It doesn’t matter that it is in one person’s name or that it’s one spouse’s retirement account.

However, if a judge decides to deviate from a 50/50 split based on a number of factors, a more equitable split can be ordered by the court.

Optimizing how you ultimately divide your property can be complex and collaborative attorneys may recommend that a neutral financial specialist get involved to help in these conversations.

How will each spouse handle the expenses of their separate household? Will there be any reallocation of income from one household to the other?

If one spouse has not been working or earns substantially less than the other spouse, then there will likely need to be a conversation about whether the higher wage earning spouse will transfer some income (usually on a monthly basis) to the lower earning spouse, and for how long.

In addition, if there are children, you will have to decide how each parent will share in the children’s expenses, including the “overhead” costs of additional living space, additional utility costs, food, as well as variable expenses such as extra-curricular activities and medical costs.