There have been numerous marital separations in the Family over the years. The rules that we are presenting here are significantly different from the rules that have been in place in the past. These new rules go into effect when this document is published (February '95) and govern only those separations that occur from that point onward.
         Any permanent marriage separations that occurred before the publication of the "Fundamental Family Rules" remain in place, unless those separated mutually agree to get back together.
         A permanent marital separation is the act of dissolving a marriage in the Family. If partners need counsel regarding their separation, or the division of their children, they may seek counsel from their Home, area or continental officers.

Rules governing permanent marital separations are as follows:

A. Couples may separate if both parties agree that it is God's will for them to do so. If they don't both agree, the marriage should not be dissolved.

1. If a member loses or forfeits his or her Charter membership, the remaining Charter spouse may dissolve the marriage after six months.

         When couples marry, they are making a pledge to remain married and united for as long as they live, and they should endeavor to make the marriage work. As Dad said, "I just believe in husbands and wives unless there's some terrible reason why they cannot possibly stay together. ... I think when you've got children to consider, you can no longer selfishly consider yourself! You've got a family, and you need to consider the children who need a mother and a father, unless they're grown and married and gone!" (ML #332C:68,76.)

         There are, however, times when the Lord makes it clear to both partners that it is His will for them to no longer remain living and working together as a married couple, that He has a different path for each of them to follow. Their callings may be such that in order for them to both use their gifts and talents to the fullest they may need to be in different locations.
         In other cases the couple may have irreconcilable differences, resulting in an inability to harmoniously function together as a married couple. In such cases, if God has clearly shown them both that they should no longer be married and that He has another plan for their lives, they are free to separate if they both agree.
         There will be times when a couple can't decide if they should separate. One partner may feel it's God's will to be apart, while the other partner feels they should remain together. In such cases the couple should seek counsel from their Home teamwork and their VSs, and if necessary, their CROs. These officers should explore the reasons why the marriage is in trouble and offer counsel and prayer to help remedy the matter. They should help the couple assess their marriage, the fruitfulness of the union, the pros and cons of the couple remaining together and of their separating.
         They may suggest a temporary separation of a specific amount of time, like three or six months, providing one of the partners can arrange a temporary stay to work in another Home. After this period of time, the couple could reassess their marriage and decide if they should remain apart or get back together. None of these measures can be forced on the couple; they must come to an agreement between themselves as to any changes in their marital situation.
         If, however, in the end they do not mutually agree to a marital separation, then the marriage should not be dissolved, because both partners originally made a mutual vow to be married.
         A marriage, however, can be dissolved if one of the partners loses their Charter membership. If one partner of the marriage ends up moving to Fellow Member status, the marriage can be dissolved after six months, even if the person going to Fellow Member status is not in agreement with the separation. But as long as both members are Charter Members, the marriage cannot be dissolved unless mutually agreed to.

         If all parties concerned are not agreed and consenting, it [divorce] is wrong (ML #647:67).
         Each case is different and each individual situation certainly needs to be handled differently, prayerfully and as led of the Lord! In some cases [leadership] suggested temporary separations. In fact, in some cases that's all that their marriage really needed, and when they separated for a few months they realized how much they actually loved and needed each other, and they sincerely wanted to straighten out and get victories, so they went to work on their problems, drew closer to the Lord and were able afterwards to get back together and go on in a much better relationship (ML #2339:29).

B. The parties must reach a mutual agreement regarding the custody of the children from the marriage. The children's preferences should be taken into account and the agreement should reflect the best interests of the children.
         If the partners agree to dissolve the marriage, or if one of the partners has lost their Charter membership and the Charter mate wants to dissolve the marriage, they must come to a mutual agreement regarding the custody of the children from the marriage. They can, and probably should, seek counsel and prayer on this matter from their shepherds, but
they must make the decision as to which children go with which parent or if all the children are going to stay with one, etc. If they can't come to an agreement, they should seek counsel from their area office, and if necessary the CRO, who should prayerfully help them assess the situation and make recommendations.
         The dissolving of a marriage and subsequent break-up of a family can be a very traumatic experience for the children. When making the decision as to which children go with which parent, the
primary consideration should be what's best for the children. The parents should lay aside their personal interests, wants and desires, as well as any ill will they may feel for each other, and attempt to find what is best for the children. The children's needs and wants should be taken into consideration. All necessary factors should be taken into account and the couple should come to an agreement that reflects the best interests of the children.
         There are many possible options. A couple could agree to a marital separation, but still remain in the same Home; thus their children would still have both the father and mother in the same Home. Another possibility would be for the couple to agree to separate and for each to take some of the children, but to live in nearby Homes for a year, so their children can still easily visit with each other. They may choose to implement an arrangement and then review it regularly to see if the children want to live for a period of time with the other parent. It is ultimately up to the couple to decide what the arrangement will be; though they can seek counsel from leadership.
         If they cannot come to an agreement on their own, and after counsel with the area or continental officers, they may have to move to Fellow Member status in order to work it out.

         If the two mates remain in the Family, they should agree on a division of the children. ... That's up to them. They can make that decision with their leadership's help and advice on where to go and how to split the kids, or who should keep them (ML #2468:91).

C. A written agreement, stating that the marriage is dissolved, and giving details of the custody of the children, must be signed by both parties and two witnesses using full legal names. Each party should retain a signed and notarized copy, and the same is to be sent to the continental office.
         A written agreement that both parties agree to the marriage ending and specifically listing the final outcome of the children's custody should be signed by both mates and two witnesses, using legal names. (See Agreement of Permanent Separation and Guardianship of Children in Appendix B.) It would be best if the agreement and the copies were notarized. Both parties should keep a copy and one should be sent to the CRO.

D. Separating couples may choose to legalize their separation and custody agreements by getting a legal divorce.
         Of course the couples can, if they choose, get a legal divorce.

Copyright (c) 1998 by The Family