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Controlled Separation: Separating with Structure

Separation is common in troubled relationships with 60% of troubled couples separating at some point. Counselor Lee Raffel has developed a structured separation that she calls Controlled Separation (CS), as an alternative to traditional separation. As Ms. Raffel told Divorce Partner, "In a trial separation, there is no structure. Couples fly by the seat of their pants. Children rarely come first, and children's needs must come first."

In a CS, couples are advocates rather than adversaries, and at the end of the controlled separation, the couple is prepared to sit down and decide whether to reconcile and continue as a couple in an improved relationship or to divorce amicably. At the heart of controlled separation is a contract, preferably written, that addresses 12 areas:

  • Time limits: The separation is given a set time frame, usually 1-6 months.

  • Legal counsel: Both individuals agree not to file for divorce during the CS.

  • Moving out: The couple decides who moves out or the rules for an in-house separation.

  • Home furnishings: The couple fairly divides home furnishings.

  • Finances: The couple works out a manageable budget for separated living.

  • Children: Their welfare is put first and terms for time with the children and family activities are set out.

  • Couple\'s continuing relationship: The couple agrees on the extent of continued interaction and intimacy.

  • Dating others: The couple determines whether or not they will see others while separated.

  • Confidentiality: The couple agrees whom to tell about the separation.

  • Teamwork and homework: The couple avoids analyzing the factors that led to separation and do structured assignments, facilitated by a counselor as necessary, to address marital problems.

  • CS contract: The contract is finalized in writing.

  • Renegotiation: If needed, provisions for renegotiating a contract are made.

A controlled separation, as Ms. Raffel says, provides, "structure. Families dont take sides, and the couple is in charge of what is going on. Children are informed without being given the messy details." As a marriage counselor, coach, and mediator with 33 years of experience, Ms. Raffel has documented her work with Controlled Separations in her book Should I Stay or Go: How Controlled Separation Can Save Your Marriage. Lee Raffel also has a website,, and with Elsie Raetke runs a workshop called "Divorce Prevention: Controlled Separation" at the Smart Marriages Conference.

* NOTICE: * Any advice provided here represent the opionions and research of the writer and are for informational purposes only. For guidance relating to your specific needs, contact a professional.
About the Expert:

Lee Raffel is founder and clinical director of Awareness Counseling Services, Inc. She has counseled couples for more than 25 years using the CS method.

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