There are a variety of angles to consider when answering this question. The first thing I encourage people to do is check their local state laws when it comes to legal separation periods.
The period of time you must be separated in order to legally file for divorce, and even what constitutes a separation for that matter, varies from state-to-state. Therefore, it is advantageous to speak with a lawyer or do your own state-specific research beforehand.
Then of course, there are the psychological and emotional elements of this question. I have seen couples separate for the minimum required time dictated by their state and I have also seen couples stay separated for several years, with no intention of starting the divorce process.
1. Is the decision to divorce clear?
There are a copious amount of reasons why couples choose to separate and with that, a variety of outcomes that result from separation. Some couples decide to get back together and experience their relationship as stronger than ever, some couples find that the separation process only escalated the amount of conflict in the relationship, and yet others experience the separation period as that of numbness, denial, or shock.
More often than not, people experience a rollercoaster of emotion when it comes to the process of separation and the subsequent divorce. Because human moods shift so frequently, it is not uncommon for someone to feel out of control or not quite themselves. Therefore, for some it can be very difficult to reach a final decision.
As long as you are within the legal guidelines dictated by your state, you can take as long as you need. Some clients report that the process feels way too prolonged especially if someone is crystal clear that he or she wants to divorce.
I know this is common sense, but the time it takes one or both parties to reach a definite decision that divorce will indeed be the outcome of the separation is a major factor in determining how long the separation period will be before the divorce proceedings begin.
(I have seen divorce proceedings get drawn out for extended periods of time because one spouse refuses to sign the divorce papers for instance).
2. Getting the logistics taken care of
Another factor that plays a role in the length of the separation process before beginning divorce proceedings is “getting all of one’s ducks in a row” per se. There are other logistical factors that may prolong the separation period such as the need for one spouse to remain on a healthcare plan, illnesses of family members, etc.
No matter how long or short, the separation period can be a period of stress for many people.
This is where tapping into or creating new social support systems can be very helpful for people. Having access to social support systems positively affect our physical and mental health in a myriad of ways. One of the reasons is by providing a buffer to stress.
No matter what, it is helpful and important to respect the process. The process of divorce does take time.
Exploring ways to boost your own coping skills, harness your creative decision-making power, and investigating your own inner resilience during this time can be incredibly beneficial.
Whether it is reading books, trying new activities, exercising, meditating, or meeting with friends and family, it is worthwhile to explore and experiment with what does and doesn’t serve you emotionally during this time period. It can even be advantageous to start up a journal as well, so that you are able to make more solid correlations between what things are particularly helpful to you during this time and what things appear to be not so helpful.
Overall, the process of going from being separated to being divorced can take as long as it needs to from a psychological standpoint. Again, depending on what state someone lives in, there are legal parameters that dictate how quickly a person can divorce after the separation process starts, which is very important to keep in mind.