Things are not going well in your marriage, but a divorce is so final. Could a trial separation be a good idea for you?
There are many things to think about when considering a trial separation, especially if you have kids.
The first step is learning what a trial separation really is. A trial separation is an informal (but conscious) agreement between two people to live apart. It’s not just one of the spouses moving out. Nor is it a legal separation, where courts are involved and legal documents are drafted to approve custody, property, and support issues.
The second step is to review the overall pros and cons of a trial separation, and consider which of these pros and cons apply to your relationship. The key is to be honest with yourself, and with each other.
Most experts agree on the following list of pros and cons of a trial separation:
- Allows time and emotional and physical space to work through marital issues.
- Offers a chance to repair the marriage and avoid a divorce.
- Gives a period of transition from one household into two separate ones.
- Avoids legal fees.
- Unless both spouses are willing to actively work on their relationship, a trial separation is doomed to fail.
- Drags out the decision to divorce which can cause more conflict in the family.
- Instills hope in the kids that their parents will remain married and causes disappointment if the trial separation fails.
- Not appropriate in situations of physical or emotional abuse.
- All financial responsibilities still remain the same.
If there’s any physical or psychological abuse in your home, trial separation is out of the question. If you are fearful, being abused or threatened, safety should be your first concern for you and your children. Leave the home as quickly and as safely as possible.
To help you decide if trial separation is worth trying in your relationship, Gaies and Morris suggest both spouses ask themselves these questions:
- Do you want the relationship/marriage to work?
- Do you believe it is possible for the relationship/marriage to work?
- Are you willing to make meaningful changes in your life?
- Does at least one of you believe that taking some time apart is necessary in order to resolve the problems between you?
- Are you both willing to actively work on improving your marriage/relationship throughout a predetermined period of separation?
Yes to all or most of these questions would indicate that a trial separation might be a good option for you. If both people want to try to save their marriage/relationship, then generally a trial separation is considered a good choice.
However, if only one person shows a commitment to working on the relationship, then a trial separation is probably not a viable option for you since your partner is not committed.
If you are going to pursue a trial separation, most experts agree that both people must come together to set up guidelines, rules and parameters before the actual separation. If the couple cannot agree on these guidelines for a trial separation, then this might indicate that a separation is not going to work out for you, and a divorce might be more appropriate.
- Children: Children should come first in any trial separation. Agree on all issues affecting the children such as: how and when to tell them about the separation, custody, visitation schedule, activities, financial support of the children, decision making process for the child, discipline, health care, school, homework, friends.
- Time frame: Establish and agree upon an end date for the trial separation. Nothing goes on forever and after 6 months, you should know if the path is leading to reconciliation or divorce.
- Therapy: Since a trial separation starts with the premise that both parties are willing to work on their relationship, you both should attend regular counseling sessions. You can find low cost or free counseling through your local Health Department or places of worship.
- Living arrangements and Finances: Mutually agree upon living arrangements as well as who is responsible for paying what bills, spousal support, child support, etc.
- Communications: Agree upon the method and frequency of communications between you. Can each of you visit the other in their home? Can you call each other? If so, are there any limitations to calling, like time of day, frequency, etc. Also agree upon what to tell your friends and family.
- Dating and Intimacy: With other people? With each other?
Carefully considering these questions will help you determine the best course of action for you and your marriage.