The Real Housewives of New Jersey stars “have been separated,” a source close to the family tells PEOPLE exclusively.
“They discussed their future when Teresa and the girls went to Italy in early November and they agreed that each had to move on. They are doing so amicably and very slowly,” the source says. “Joe has been out on a few dates, Teresa has not. She has been too busy with the girls, with work obligations and taking care of her father. She is happy for Joe . They have been very friendly with one another and are very supportive of each other’s happiness. They still love one another, but as Teresa told Andy Cohen on the WWHL special, they are separated by the Atlantic Ocean. Neither is interested in a long distance relationship.”
Still, the sources says “there are no plans for divorce” at this time, adding that “both of them are focused” on their four daughters: Gia, 18, Gabriella, 15, Milania, 14, and Audriana, 10.
The source says the girls will be visiting Joe for Christmas in Italy, while Teresa is staying home in New Jersey with her father.
PEOPLE reached out to Teresa’s lawyer James J. Leonard for comment, and he politely declined.
Teresa, 47, and Joe, 49, were childhood sweethearts and got married in October 1999. They have been living apart for nearly four years. Joe began a 41-month prison sentence for mail, wire and bankruptcy fraud in March 2016; Teresa served a little over 11 months in prison for the same crimes, and was released on Dec. 23, 2015.
Joe was released from prison last year but was held in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement at the Clinton County Correctional Center in Pennsylvania as he fought to appeal a judge’s deportation order. (Though he has lived in the United States since he was a child, he never obtained American citizenship.)
Due to the rough conditions inside the ICE facility, though, Joe requested to go to Italy to await his third and final deportation appeal. He flew to Europe in October, where he’s currently awaiting the final decision in his deportation battle. Teresa previously told PEOPLE the family understood why he chose to leave the United States after seven trying months in ICE custody.
“At the end of the day, I just want Joe to be happy. I’m just happy that he was free. I mean, where he was, it was really torturous,” she said, adding, “I mean, he did wait [to leave America] because that’s what his daughters wanted him to do, fight. And that’s I what I said to him, you can never regret it because you did fight, and now that was good that you were able to leave and still fight it from Italy. I was like, ‘You don’t want to be in there. It’s disgusting.’ Who would want to be in there?”
“So, I mean, he kept saying, ‘I wish I would have left earlier and I didn’t have to spend those seven months in there and then I could have saw the girls in the summertime.’ I’m like ‘Whatever.’ I mean because you always follow the lead of the lawyers, what they tell you to do,” she added. “You can’t think about ‘I should have, could have,’ whatever. This is the way it was supposed to go. … His daughters could never say Daddy didn’t fight.”
In October, shortly before the Giudice family trip to Italy, Joe appeared in his first television interview since he went to prison in March 2016, chatting via satellite with Teresa in a Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen special.
“I’m waiting until I get there to see if I feel differently,” Teresa said. “I just feel like when you live apart. … He says the same thing, when he sees me, he may not want this either. We’ll know when we see each other.”
Although they both maintained that they still love each other, Teresa again said she would have no choice but to divorce Joe if he is indeed deported.
“I want to wake up with someone every single day,” Teresa said, explaining that her kids understood. “I think they get it. I don’t think they want to see it happen, obviously, but I think they understand. Because the way I explained it to them, how are we going to live apart? I don’t think he would be faithful. I think he would have someone there and have me here. I just don’t want to live that life.”
Her comments on WWHL came two years after she talked about leaving Joe in her post-prison memoir, Standing Strong, which was released in fall 2017.
“People think that I’d never leave Joe. But that’s not the case,” she wrote. “If things with Joe aren’t good … between us when he gets home, I’d absolutely end our relationship.”