Thinking of Divorce? Consider a Trial Separation First

Here are the pros and cons.


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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 people even hold the belief that divorce laws require a period of “separation” or living apart before a legal divorce can be filed. 

What Is a Trial Separation?

A trial separation is an informal agreement between two spouses to live apart for a specified period of time, usually before deciding whether or not to proceed with a divorce. There are no legal agreements, lawyers, or judges involved.

The decision to divorce can be driven by negative emotions that get in the way of one making a rational choice. Time away from a marriage 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. Do you think a trial separation may be a good fit for you and your partner? Learn more about them below.

The Difference Between a Trial and Legal Separation 

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. In a trial separation, no formal legal action is taken.

Pros of a Trial Separation

There are benefits to a trial separation, including:

  • 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. 
  • 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. 
  • 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

On the flip side, consider these downsides:

  • 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, (say he bought 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. 
  • Any work bonuses or winnings such as the lottery will also be considered marital property and split 50/50 should there be a divorce.

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 new relationship skills.

You and your spouse will know best whether a trial separation or legal separation is a better fit for you. It may be a tough conversation to have, but committing to a plan will hopefully provide you both an opportunity to heal and then return to the relationship with a refreshed attitude and perspective.

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