How to Separate Before Divorce

Getting a divorce is a big decision. Even if you know it's the right choice, you may start second-guessing yourself. In a situation like this, you might choose to explore the types of separations you could try before officially changing your marital status.

What is a trial separation?

A trial separation is an agreement between two people in a relationship to spend time apart. During this time, they may explore their own needs and desires without pressure from the other person.

How to get a trial separation

No legal process is required for a trial separation. You and your spouse simply agree to try living apart from one another. For a trial separation to be effective, however, you may want to make sure you cut ties as much as possible so both you and your spouse can live as separate individuals.

Issues regarding the marital home

The first step when considering separation is deciding who will move out of the marital home. This decision should be made with care, as it has far-reaching implications for both parties due to the legal and financial responsibilities associated with owning property. If children are involved, other factors – such as custody and visitation – must also be considered. 


To make sure your trial separation is an effective test of your marriage,  it's important to establish ground rules during this period of time. When it comes to splitting childcare duties, communication between parents is key. Establish clear expectations regarding which parent will be responsible for various child-related activities in order to prevent misunderstandings down the road.


Significant financial decisions must be made during this time period, especially if one party moves out of the shared residence. You want to make sure all financial obligations are still met. This may entail setting up separate bank accounts, credit cards, and other types of loan accounts. Doing so may help prevent future confusion regarding who is responsible for debts and who has rights to marital assets in the event of a divorce.

What is a legal separation?

Legal separation involves a formal agreement that outlines the rights and responsibilities of spouses who wish to live separately but remain married. A legal separation agreement can dictate matters of alimony, child support, and division of assets. Depending on the state you live in, you may also be able to file for temporary orders regarding custody and visitation of children while your case is pending.

It should be noted that not all states recognize legal separation. If you are considering this option, it’s important to check your local laws first. In states where legal separation is not allowed, you can still separate from your spouse, but your separated status won't receive any legal recognition.  

How to get a legal separation

If you reside in a state that grants legal separations, the process begins with the filing of paperwork with your local court system. This paperwork includes various forms regarding finances and marital property division as well as any other relevant issues such as custody or visitation arrangements for minor children. Once these forms are filed with the court, they must be served appropriately on your spouse before being officially entered into the records. 

Once you've filed the paperwork, you'll need to begin the process of actually separating from your spouse. This may include getting a new apartment, new bank accounts, and possibly even a new car. While you can agree to share certain expenses, especially if one spouse is staying in the marital home, these decisions should still be written in a formal agreement so you can hold each other accountable.

Which states allow legal separation? Click here to find out.

Transitioning from legal separation to divorce

The process of transitioning from legal separation to divorce varies from state to state, so it’s important to check your state's divorce laws before proceeding in this direction. If you have been legally separated for a period of time (each state has its own timeline), transitioning to divorce proceedings may simply involve updating your existing paperwork with additional documentation. For example, to obtain your divorce decree, you may need to prove that you have been living separately for a certain amount of time or that reconciliation efforts have been unsuccessful.

In some states, however, a legal separation cannot be converted to a divorce. In this situation, you would likely have to start the divorce process from the beginning in order to get the dissolution of marriage you seek. Among other things, this may require the payment of a new filing fee.

What is permanent separation?

Key differences exist between permanent separation and both legal separation and divorce. In a permanent separation, both parties agree the marriage is over and that they intend to live separate lives. And yet, they agree not to formalize their status via divorce proceedings. Why? For many couples, this is an acceptable alternative when religious beliefs prohibit them from getting a divorce. There may be other reasons for a permanent separation as well, such as the desire to continue sharing health care benefits via a health insurance policy.

To be effective, a permanent separation should have the same documents in place as a legal separation, including a separation agreement. This is similar to a marital settlement agreement in divorce, and it lays out the legal rights and responsibilities of each party. It's vital that your permanent separation have a separation agreement so you and your spouse understand the terms of the separation.

Can Hello Divorce help with my separation?

We offer cost-effective online divorce plans as well as hourly blocks of flat-rate legal advice to guide you through your separation or divorce. If you need to negotiate the terms of your separation, we can also help you find the right mediator.


Divorce Content Specialist & Lawyer
Divorce Strategy, Divorce Process, Legal Insights

Bryan is a non-practicing lawyer, HR consultant, and legal content writer. With nearly 20 years of experience in the legal field, he has a deep understanding of family and employment laws. His goal is to provide readers with clear and accessible information about the law, and to help people succeed by providing them with the knowledge and tools they need to navigate the legal landscape. Bryan lives in Orlando, Florida.