Thinking About a Trial Separation? 10 Questions to Ask Yourself

  1. Basic RGB

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?

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13 Comments

  1. OMG…your new site is amazing and resonates deeply with me. You will instill confidence and support for many women to move forward who are so afraid of the next step.
    C

  2. I am currently getting ready for a trial separation. We’ve outlined the basics (with a little wiggle room for our schedules which vary much of the time) and divided our marital property and custody and all that in a paper which we will have notarized & will serve (with a few minor adjustments) as a legal agreement if & when we decide to proceed with either a legal separation, divorce or both (the idea being that we either move to reconcile, prolong hopes of reconciliation or we take the final step). This is not either of our first times at bat so to speak so we wanted to have our bases covered should things go further south. For the original trial separation agreement we’ve also included prescheduled date nights & both marital & individual counseling. Although I’m hopeful that our marriage will be successful in the end, it’s comforting to know that all disputes have been worked out ahead of time & that at least we tried everything we could before finally giving up.

  3. Hi. I am about to go through this. My husband says he wants to clear his head and wants a trial separation. He says he has no passion for anything except his children. It saddens me because I have stood by his side when he has been at his lowest. Yes he has cheated but he said it didn’t mean anything and he didn’t know why he did it. I am not refusing to beg him to stay with me. I do hope to work it out but living with him is hurtful b/c he barely talks to me. I feel so rejected.

    • Hi, glad you reached out –don’t deal with this alone! This post will give you a sense of control over the situation.

      I know that it is hard to feel rejected and to cope with the unfairness of it all. And there is a lot to be sad about. Yet, you show great courage by looking for resources to make you stronger.

      For a second, let’s look at the good news:
      • He is asking for a trial separation – not yet a divorce
      • He has expressed “passion” for the children – interesting word he chose – hopefully, implies he will keep them a priority and ease the process for them.

      Use this post as a guide for now. Set the boundaries you need. Perhaps print out my latest post “Thinking about Divorce – Fantasy vs. Reality” and share it with your husband.

      I would be very happy to speak with you, and help you create a great team. You are already on the right track.

    • It is so important to at least appear strong and somewhat normal for the kids. While is may be hard to keep to your self, other’s will muddy the waters unintentionally.
      I have been where you are, and now I am on the other side so to speak. It will be Ok – someday…

      • I do hope so. I haven’t conceded defeat with the ‘d’ word. My husband has a lot of issues that have nothing to do with me. He admitted this. He said he can’t give me what I deserve in terms of affection, attention, conversation because he is so unhappy with himself. He does see a counselor about his issues and I see one for my sanity. I also read ‘After the Affair’ and ‘Codependent no more’. Both were insightful. My main focus is to reinvent myself and to prepare for the worst. I want to stay positive but who knows if and when he will get himself together. I have to guard my heart as well and take care of my children. Everyday is a test for me just to keep it together.

  4. My marriage is going bad lately. I love my wife even though she cheated recently. But she says that she has felt unhappy since before our first child was born She says she needs to do things that will make her happy but everything she told me are things that we can do together or that i can support her in. She wants a trial separation, but I don’t. She thinks I am not happy and doesn’t feel she makes me happy but she does. It’s that she has had quite a few years to think about herself and I only found out about her cheating on me and all this this year. We don’t have our own home and if we separate I will be forced to move. I can’t handle watching my kids grow up like this. We have only had one therapy session and she doesn’t like the the therapist. I am indifferent because the therapist focused on her and not really me. I am happy in my life and there are things that would be nice to do for myself but they are not crucial or necessary for my happiness. I would really like to reconnect with my wife and do all these things that she wants together. She says I have done nothing wrong but she has stated before the things that I did. I don’t want to separate and want to work on our marriage through communication and therapy. I am truly afraid that if I do agree to separation, that this is what she wants to do move forward with divorce. I just don’t know if that is true or not. I am so confused and lost.

    • Hi Tommy,

      My apologies for not responding sooner. I hear your sorrow and confusion. You stated so clearly how hard it is when your spouse has had time to think through and “live” with an idea that you are far behind and need time to catch up. Trial separations are very scary for the non initiating spouse.

      It is good that you started into some therapy. What is it that your wife doesn’t like about the therapist? How much of her dislike has to do with the focus being on her?

      Don’t be afraid to ask questions that you many not want to hear the answers to. If you like send me the questions first. If it isn’t too late please seek legal advice before moving out.

      Remaining calm and productive will lead you to a far better place and set the tone for the next step whatever that is.

      Confused and lost is the territory you are in, but don’t need to stay in. It is terribly hard and emotional, but you can gain strength and some sense of control – YOU CAN!

      Let me know how things are going,
      Deb

  5. I think the fact that despite our feelings of potential loneliness & the idea that this could be the beginning of the end, we’ve made things much easier by putting together our agreement ahead of time. While we have been able to reconcile our friendship due to not getting into some huge court battle I’m not sure that our marriage will ever be reconciled. It has made a difference however in the way that we treat each other & how happy our children seem to be despite our parting ways.

    We’ve both stuck to the agreement 100% with the exception of the family car which we later decided he would buy from me to help with some of the bills that were left after he moved out but beyond that I do have to say this has been the most positive experience I’ve ever dealt with. We still help each other whenever we can & there are no hard feelings on either of our sides. We’ve both decided to go ahead with the divorce and even though we do still love each other a great deal have decided to remain close friends & wish each other luck in any future relationships either of us end up in.

    I think the trial separation gives you a chance to really experience what its like to live without one another and helps to make that final decision as to whether or not to file for separation & continue attempts to reconcile, to divorce & finally end things or to stay together & let your love flourish. Its not official enough to scare most but rather helps couples better decide on which route to take with the marriage. Not everyone is going to be as adult about any form of splitting up but if you get the arguments out of the way ahead of time it really gives you the breathing room you need to make a clear headed decision on your relationship.

    I may have lost my husband but by choosing the trial separation I got my best friend back!

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