While the words “trial separation” may not strike as much fear into the heart as “divorce,” the prospect is still difficult and worrisome for the spouse not wanting to separate. Is this really a trial period? Or is it just a stepping stone to an inevitable split?
Living apart can offer you some space if your marital conflicts have become too charged to handle objectively. It can also be a way to test the financial and emotional implications of divorce, while allowing you to reverse your decision if you’re able to work out your differences. But this is hardly a comfort to the spouse who did not initiate the separation. The truth is, many trial separations do lead to divorce, and the process can be terribly stressful for both parties.
If you take steps to define and structure your separation, it can help you avoid further emotional turmoil, as well as easing the anxieties of the non-initiating spouse. Here are 10 questions that may help you negotiate a trial separation.
- Who is going to move out? When and where? (Bear in mind that during a trial separation, in many states, you are still legally married and the rules of property ownership remain the same.)
- How and when will the moving-out spouse remove their things, and what will they take?
- How and when can the moving-out spouse access the marital home?
- How will the new residence be financed (rented or purchased)? What about furniture?
- When and what are you going to tell your children, their teachers, your family, your friends?
- Will you commit to counseling as a couple?
- What are your arrangements to secure financial and legal advice? (I strongly recommend having both in place before any actions are taken, and I can refer you to a good attorney if needed. More about financial planning in a future post.)
- Where are the children staying? Consider holidays, vacations, and other occasions when you may wish to take the children out of town.
- Who will handle bill paying? What about jointly held credit cards and bank accounts?
- How will you be communicating with each other and how often?
- What is your time frame – the date on which you’ll evaluate the situation?
If you are experiencing, or have experienced a “trial separation” – can you add to this list? What strategies worked or didn’t work? What would you do differently?