If you and your spouse need a break from the relationship, you may choose to live apart while you decide between divorce or reconciliation. While you're separated, the same legal rules apply as when you are married, in terms of ownership of property. For example, money you earn and property you buy are likely to still be considered jointly owned by you and your spouse, depending on your state's rules about property ownership.
If you are hoping to reconcile, it's a good idea to write an informal agreement about some issues that will surely come up in the meantime. For example, you will need to decide whether or not you will continue to share a joint bank account or credit cards and how you'll budget your spending, which of you will stay in the family home, how expenses will be shared, and the like. If you have kids, you'll need to decide how and when each of you will spend time with them. Here's a sample separation agreement that you can use to create your own.
1. Cynthia and Howard Bean agree that we are going to live apart beginning on February 1, 20xx. We're not ending our marriage and we aren't contemplating divorce right now.
2. We will continue to share ownership of and access to our joint bank and credit card accounts, and we will both continue to deposit our paychecks into the joint checking account, which we will use to pay household expenses as usual. Cynthia will continue to pay the bills from our joint account.
3. Howard will live with his brother. Cynthia will stay in the house with the kids. Howard will come to the house to see the kids on the following schedule: every Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, from 5:00 to 9:00 p.m., and all day every Sunday. He may see the kids more if we both agree. Cynthia can be present during the time that Howard is at the house, or not, at her option. Other than the scheduled visitation times, Howard won't come to the house unless we agree in advance.
4. This agreement is valid until July 31, 20xx. After that we'll decide to reconcile or to divorce, or will make a new agreement.
Excerpted from Nolo's Essential Guide to Divorce, by Emily Doskow.