Thinking of Divorce? First, Consider a Trial Separation

Updated 05/14/19
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Couples who have become disillusioned with their marriage but aren’t ready to take the permanent step of divorce have the option of either entering into a legal separation or a trial separation. Some even hold the belief that divorce laws require a period of “separation” or living apart before a legal divorce can be filed. 

The decision to divorce can be driven by negative emotions that get in the way of one making a rational choice. Time away from the marriage and spouse can clear one’s thinking and help reality intrude into the fantasy idea of being single again and all the wonders that they believe come along with flying solo. 

The Difference Between a Trial and Legal Separation 

A trial separation is an informal agreement between two spouses to live apart. There are no legal agreements, lawyers or judges involved.

During a legal separation, a couple decides to live separately and will use a family court attorney to draw up a legal separation agreement that outlines such issues as child custody, who pays the bills, who lives where and the duration of the separation. 

Pros of a Trial Separation

  1. It gives you a cooling off period to work through any negative emotions you feel about the marriage or your spouse. Spending time apart from each other can help you see the marriage and marital problems in a different light. 
  2. You don’t have to spend money on an attorney to take care of any legal issues. You should set rules and discuss how you expect each other to behave during the trial separation. 
  3. You have an opportunity to examine what role you may have played in the marital problems. Identifying your role in the marital problems will make it more clear on how you can help the marriage to survive. 

Cons of a Trial Separation

  1. Your financial obligations remain the same during the time of the trial separation, even if that issue is one of the thorns in the side of your marriage. If your spouse incurs debt, by, say, buying a new car during a trial separation, that debt will be considered marital debt. Should you decide to divorce, you would not have the protection offered by a legal separation agreement. 
  2. Any work bonuses, winnings such as the lottery will also be considered marital property and split 50/50 should there be a divorce.

Any separating couples should also consider professional family or marital counseling during the separation period. Time apart can help cool down negative emotions but it will not teach relationship skills which will be needed because if you don’t learn a new way of dealing with the marital problems the same problems will surface again. 

You and your spouse will know which is best for your situation. It may be a hard conversation to have, but both parties must commit to the plan or else neither of you will be able to heal. 

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