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Thursday, February 25, 2021

What Couples Can Expect from a Trial Separation?

As a person going through the divorce process, it took me a long time to realize that I needed to end my marriage, but once I did, I made my decision and there was no going back. For other people, it is not so cut and dry, and a trial separation might be in order to decide if divorce is the next step they want to take, or to try to work on the relationship. Here's more on the topic. from Veronica Baxter, a writer and legal assistant working for Philadelphia divorce attorney, Lee A. Schwartz. 


A marriage is a long-term commitment to another person that asks a lot of you. It is not surprising that you may face some issues along the way. Perhaps you are having problems, and you’ve both agreed that you need some space to process how you are feeling.

This article will go into what couples typically experience during a trial separation and how to make the most of it if the couple truly wants to work on the relationship, from the office of Philadelphia divorce attorney Lee A. Schwartz.


What is a Trial Separation?

A trial separation is an informal agreement between two parties in a relationship, married or not, to live apart for a time. There are no legal agreements, lawyers, or courts involved in a trial separation. A trial separation is intended to give the couple time and space to assess the relationship honestly, both how it functions and it’s worth, as well as time to work on themselves.

Why Do You Two Think a Trial Separation is Best?

If one or both of you see trial separation as a precursor to divorce, then this article will not help you much. However, if you are separating for a purpose, you may be able to work on your relationship in that space and come back together.

Common reasons for couples to agree on a trial separation include:
  • One of you is being treated for alcohol or drug dependency;
  • You and your partner need space to work through relationship issues at a distance;
  • You are hoping to avoid divorce if possible and need the space to think;
  • You also want to work on yourself and your personal issues, and a trial separation gives you the freedom to make yourself and your needs your number one priority;
  • A trial separation gives you both an idea of what living apart would be like if you divorce, and
  • A trial separation gives you both time and space to regain composure and resume communicating so that if you must divorce, it is not as acrimonious as it otherwise would be.
How Can a Trial Separation Help Us?

In order for a trial separation to help you, you both must agree to some ground rules, spell out what you intend to get out of the separation, and set a timeline.

What are the ground rules?

In order to work on your relationship, you should agree to refrain from dating or engaging in intimate relations with other people while you are separated.

If you have children, you may also have to have some rules about how you intend to parent those children during the trial separation. Write down a parenting schedule so you both know what the other expects, and be flexible should things change.v

Set forth who is to live in the marital home, who pays what bills, and how you intend to deal with any joint bank accounts or credit cards during the trial separation.

Last, agree upon what language you each will use when you talk about your trial separation with friends and family.

What do you want out of the trial separation?

You are separating for a reason - what is it? Make sure you both know what the other is going through and thinking and what your expectations are. Otherwise, nothing will get worked on by either of you. Be accountable to each other for the issues you intend to address while separated.

If your goal is to reconcile, consider counseling. Undergoing individual counseling with the goal of undergoing couples counseling eventually would be very useful to you both. Having an impartial marriage or family counselor listening to and understanding your story and your concerns will help you work through them.

How long do you intend to be separated?

This may be difficult to determine much less agreed upon. Instead of setting a hard and fast deadline, you might allow for things to develop by agreeing to a specified time at first. Then you could revisit whether an extension is needed once the specified period expires. For example, you might agree that you both need a month apart and will discuss whether either of you needs more time when that month expires. Put your trial separation agreement in writing.

Simply put, having the rules, goals, and timeline in writing will avoid misunderstandings. The writing can be just a quick email or text.

What about Legal Separation?

Some states do have a status called “legal separation” during which a judge can issue property settlement, custody, and support orders prior to a judgment of divorce.

A trial separation is not a legal status, so you will have to decide among yourselves how you will deal with your custody and support issues as well as the joint finances.

What if We Ultimately Decide to Divorce?

If at the end of your trial separation period you decide to divorce, after all, know that your trial separation will not have been in vain. In fact, you will have already come to some conclusions regarding your joint bills as well as custody and support, and you will have taken time off from each other to cool down. This will help you both through the difficult process of separating two intertwined lives.

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