separation in marriage

How to Choose the Best Marriage Separation Option for Your Family

There comes a time in many marriages when a separation is necessary. Marriage separations are not one-size-fits-all and what may work for one family may not work for another. Trial, permanent, and legal are the three main types of separations and each has their own parameters.

While many may think a marriage separation as a negative thing or a reflection of weaknesses, separations are often positive decisions that can strengthen a union moving forward or lead to a more amicable and healthy divorce. They give couples time and space to reflect on the marriage and relieve feelings of conflict, anger, disappointment, and sadness. When apart, individuals are able to think more clearly about their own desires and expectations.

When discussing separation with your partner make sure that both of you are calm and ready to talk. Separation should never be explored in the heat of an argument. Set aside some time to talk when you will not be interrupted and can focus completely on each other. Try to avoid anger or defensiveness. While some celebrities like Gywneth Paltrow may make separation and divorce seem like a beautiful, seamless transition, the truth is that many uncouplings are one-sided, with one partner deciding on the separation and the other resisting it.

Once separation is clearly on the table, it is time to decide which type of marriage separation works best for your family. Keep in mind that marriage, separation, and divorce laws vary from state to state. These general outlines can help you decide which type makes the most sense for you, but researching your specific state laws or discussing it with a legal specialist is a good idea.

Trial Separation

Many of us need a break from time to time in order to think clearly about our relationship. A trial separation allows a couple to be independent in order to decide whether reconciliation is possible or if a divorce is what is really wanted.

In a trial separation you are still married and all of the legal rules still apply. Any financial gains or debt accrued during a trial separation will still likely be considered shared.

While in most states there is no legal action that needs to be taken, it is still important to decide on some ground rules especially if you and your spouse share children (more on all that later).

Using “I” statements (“I have been feeling X about Y”) helps to respect your partner's own narrative while still sharing and honoring your own feelings. Communicating in times of stress is especially hard. Download Relish to explore communication strategies from expert coaches. Click here to start your free 7 day trial.

Permanent Separation

If a couple separates and does not intend to reconcile, they are considered permanently separated. In many states, living apart with no intention of getting back together changes property rights so that they are no longer shared between the couple. For example, if after a permanent separation has been established, one partner gets a bonus at work they do not have to share it. Or if one partner gets a loan for a car that debt is just theirs.

If you do decide to divorce, it is important to record the date of permanent separation. This is often disputed and is the basis for the legal division of assets. If a couple has been apart for six months, then decides to spend a night together for old time sake, the day after may legally be considered the actual date of separation.

As with a trial separation, couples must determine the rules and parameters of a permanent separation.

Legal Separation

All states with the exception of Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, and Texas recognize legal separation. The process of declaring legal separation varies from state to state, but simply living separately does not constitute legal separation.

A court order of legal separation includes orders about child custody arrangements, child support, property and asset division, and alimony agreements similar to arrangements made in divorce proceedings. Lawyers may be helpful in navigating this option.

Some couples may decide to legally separate without an intention of ever divorcing. This could be due to religious or cultural reasons or financial ones. Many people choose to stay legally married so that they may stay on their spouse’s health insurance or receive other benefits. It is important to remember that neither partner may remarry unless a divorce occurs.

Creating Rules And Boundaries

Whatever type of separation a couple decides to pursue, it is important to create clear rules and articulate expectations. Experts suggest you consider and discuss all of the following with your partner if you choose to separate:


First and foremost, figure out exactly what your assets are, which assets are shared, and which belong to only your partner. If your partner is the one who’s always handled the finances, make sure you are fully aware of your financial situation prior to separating.

Many couples keep their finances separate to begin with, but if you have joint accounts make sure you agree on how that money will be used going forward (for example, if you are paying off a joint debt). Some couples choose to close all joint accounts for the duration of the separation.

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Living Arrangements

Generally—but not always—separations mean that one partner moves out of the shared living space and gets their own place. This decision should be discussed when making financial considerations. Setting a timeline for moving out and establishing boundaries for when you and your partner can visit one another (if at all) can help ease this transition.


Set up expectations for how often you may contact one another. Consider what times of day feel appropriate and what methods are comfortable for both of you. You may want to see one other and speak in person, or prefer phone calls or texts. If contact is difficult, you may want to enlist a third party to communicate through.


While separated you or your spouse may want to see other people. Setting these ground rules can be uncomfortable but helpful in the long run. Discuss whether you are both interested in seeing other people and if sexual intimacy is okay. You may also want to consider what is appropriate to share on social media and if you plan on using dating apps.

Children and Custody

If you and your partner share children you will have to make a plan for custody and visitation. This can be incredibly challenging and emotional but focusing on what will be the least disruptive and easiest on the children can create a lot of clarity. While this is a hard time it is important that neither spouse ever bad mouths the other to their kids.

Going Public

You are under no obligation to share the news of your separation with anyone, but know that word often does get out. Decide who you would like to know about your decision to separate and what you feel comfortable sharing.

During separation, reflect on whether reconciliation is a goal for both you and your spouse. If it is, allow yourself plenty of time to work towards a healthy reunification.

Seek help from a relationship coach and/or marriage therapist. Click here to try a week of Relish and get full access to our relationship coaches and more.

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