5 Benefits of a Trial Separation and Tools for Success

Like life, marriage is full of ups and downs. Jobs, kids, money, stress. Usually, you can roll with it and set yourself back on course after a bumpy ride. But what happens when those bumps seem insurmountable when you feel a huge disconnect in your relationship and aren’t sure how to move forward? 

Divorce is an option, but it’s a huge step. You may feel unsure whether you’re ready to make that move. At times like these, a trial separation can give you the perspective you need to reevaluate your marriage and decide where to go from here. 

So you’re thinking about a trial separation

When things get rocky but divorce is way too big a move, taking time out from your marriage can give you the time and space you need. 

A trial separation is an informal agreement between you and your spouse to temporarily live apart while you decide how you want to proceed. During a trial separation, you can get some breathing room from your daily conflicts. Without being right on top of the problems and in the middle of blame or anger, you can see your relationship from a different vantage point and even recognize your own roles and responsibilities in the process. 

You might find that your marriage could just use some reframing or professional help. Or, you might realize you don’t want to do this any longer. Either way, exploring your marriage with a bit of emotional distance can clarify your options and make them seem less overwhelming. 

Trial separation vs. legal separation

While a trial separation is an informal agreement with your spouse to live separately for a period of time, a legal separation involves the family court system and is legally enforceable.

In some ways, the mechanics of a legal separation are similar to filing for divorce. You or your spouse will file a petition with the court for separation and work out terms such as child support and custody, spousal support, and asset and debt division. If you and your spouse can’t agree on these terms, the court will make these decisions for you.

While a trial separation may be easier and less involved, the court cannot legally enforce it if your spouse doesn’t live up to their side of the agreement. Thus, it’s important to consider your situation when deciding which type of separation would be best for you. 

Setting ground rules for your trial separation

If you and your spouse have decided on a trial separation, establishing ground rules is a critical step. Even if you don’t anticipate your separation will lead to divorce, it’s important to lay down some essential rules to avoid potential hard feelings.

Questions you will need to consider may include the following:

  • Who will move out, and who will stay in the marital home? 
  • How will you pay for two households? 
  • How will you share child custody and visitation
  • Will you divide certain belongings while apart? 
  • How much contact will you have with each other?
  • Do you want to impose sexual boundaries during your time apart? 
  • Will you seek help from a therapist to work on key issues during your separation? 
  • How will you talk to your kids about the separation? 

Setting expectations upfront will allow your trial separation to become more than just time away from each other. With enough structure and thoughtfulness, it can become a tool for future understanding and communication, regardless of where your separation leads.

Benefits of a trial separation

Although a separation signals a serious crossroads in your marriage, it’s difficult to get a clear perspective on your marital issues when you're living in the middle of them. A trial separation can give you the time and space you need to think clearly about your future. You can:

  • Get back to a place of neutrality. Living on the edge of anger and hurt all the time makes it difficult to think clearly enough to evaluate all aspects of your relationship. Cooling down and taking a time-out may allow you to gain perspective so you can make mindful decisions.
  • Understand your own role in relationship dynamics. A marriage rarely breaks down because of just one partner. Getting some space allows you the time and perspective to understand your role in the issues. You can consider whether you can make some adjustments toward better communication and possible healing.
  • Get time to work on your own needs. Marriage can become a two-headed monster when partners don’t have the time and space to be individuals. A trial separation can give you space to prioritize your own needs.
  • Understand what it would be like to live apart. While you may have idealized having your life back to yourself, the reality might look somewhat different. A trial separation will give you some real-life insight into what a separate life would look like. 
  • Possibly appreciate your spouse more. Does absence make the heart grow fonder? Maybe; maybe not. Getting space will allow you to see your spouse from a clearer perspective … and perhaps even appreciate them more.

A trial separation can give you the chance to see what living without your spouse would really be like. All the while, you retain the legal benefits of being married.

Tools you can use during trial separation

Navigating marital issues can leave you stuck in a cycle of he-said/she-said. When this happens, it’s difficult to break free. 

Getting outside help, both as a couple and as an individual, can be invaluable during your time apart. This help can take the form of couples counseling, a marriage therapist, a life coach, or a support group. Friends and family can help give you the strength and support you need when you’re considering your options. During this time, you can also benefit from the best possible gift you can give yourself: self-care and understanding

Getting the advice you need may be as close as a click away. At Hello Divorce, we’re here to help you navigate the complicated terrain of marriage. We have plenty of resources and coaching services to give you clarity and answer your questions so you can move forward with confidence. 

Divorce Content Specialist
Mediation, Divorce Strategy, Divorce Process, Mental Health
Candice is a former paralegal and has spent the last 16 years in the digital landscape, writing website content, blog posts, and articles for the legal industry. Now, at Hello Divorce, she is helping demystify the complex legal and emotional world of divorce. Away from the keyboard, she’s a devoted wife, mom, and grandmother to two awesome granddaughters who are already forces to be reckoned with. Based in Florida, she’s an avid traveler, painter, ceramic artist, and self-avowed bookish nerd.