What Are the Different Types of Marital Separation?

In America today, according to the Census Bureau, both marriage rates and divorce rates are on the decline, with a significant drop in both from 2008 to 2018. While divorce still happens in America, the divorce rate decline could be attributed to the popularity of temporary, legal, and permanent separations.

A marriage can end for a number of reasons; whatever the reason, a separation could be the remedy that your marriage needs when you are contemplating a break or a divorce. The decision to divorce or separate is both a legal and a personal choice, and it is one that deserves significant thought.

When you are considering a separation, it may be worth seeking professional legal help as well as reviewing any local legal resources that are available to help inform your choices. If you are considering a marital separation, here are a few things you should know.

Trial Separation

A trial separation is when a married couple decides on an informal separation. There are no legalities or paperwork involved, and there are no judges or attorneys. A trial separation is simply a personal arrangement between you and your spouse to live separately on a temporary basis. At the end of the set period, it’s up to you both to decide whether to pursue the marriage or continue on to a legal separation or, if applicable, divorce proceeding.

Pros and Cons of Trial Separation

A trial separation has many benefits for married couples, but there are some disadvantages of separation as well.

Pros Cons
+      It allows you both time to cool off and let the dust settle.


+      There are no legal expenses required.


+      You have the ability to pursue therapy or other means of help

–       You are still financially obligated to one another.


–       During the trial separation, all income may still be considered marital property.


–       The arrangement can be difficult for children.


When to Get a Trial Separation

With a trial separation, there is no official timetable. Experts recommend that each couple decides on a specific timeframe for the trial separation. Be sure to set a date when you will reunite to discuss the time apart and determine next steps, so the separation doesn’t drag on open-ended.

Couples therapy can also be a constructive solution when you’re separating from your spouse. Certain therapies promote healthy listening habits and can help to facilitate healthier communication habits, as well. Therapists, clergy, and mediators are all examples of professionals who can help.

What Is a Legal Separation?

A legal separation is a type of no man’s land — you are not married, you are not divorced and you cannot remarry. It is often considered the beginning stages of a divorce, and the separation period can outline how some key issues may be handled should you choose to pursue that route.

Several items are addressed during a legal separation, including:

All states recognize a legal separation, except for Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, and Texas. Regardless of where you live, it’s important to check with appropriate legal counsel to ensure that this is the right avenue for you.

Pros and Cons of Legal Separation

A legal separation can provide the official arrangement that you are seeking, but there are also some separation rules in marriage to consider.

Pros Cons
+      This allows couples more time on the final decision to divorce.


+      You can maintain spousal benefits.


+      You still abide by ethical or religious beliefs against divorce.

–       You cannot remarry unless you formally divorce first.


–       Couples share joint financial liability.


–       You may be ineligible for health insurance coverage with your spouse.

When to Legally Separate

Legal separation offers more finality than a trial separation because it is recognized in the eyes of the law, thus making it official.

A legal separation is ideal for many families around the country. For some, it is a permanent solution to a bad marriage without infringing on personal or religious beliefs. For others, it can be a way to maintain insurance benefits without the pain and struggle of actually living together.

What Is a Permanent Separation?

A permanent separation is much like a legal separation, except you and your spouse have already made the final decision to split. Your next steps will depend largely on where you live. Community property states may demand that you split the marital assets, such as your property and debt. Although this is a formal, legal process it is possible for the separation to be finalized without going to court if both parties are cooperative.

Once the permanent separation is complete, you will no longer assume financial responsibility for one another. This may exclude arrangements like child care and child support, depending on your local laws.

Pros and Cons of Permanent Separation

A permanent separation can be a great fit for some marriages, but it isn’t for everyone.


Pros Cons
+      You no longer assume spousal debt.


+      There is less disruption to children.


+      It allows a chance for future reconciliation.

–       You might lose financial support from a dual-income household.


–       The exact start date of separation could be contestable.


–       You may incur expensive legal fees.


When to Permanently Separate

Like the other forms of separation, a permanent separation can be a good step to take when you are not ready for a divorce, but still need to take some time apart. In addition to the legal ramifications of your separation, you will want to set some guidelines for other matters. You will need to determine how joint assets will be handled moving forward, as well as custodial agreements for your children.

Because a permanent separation is based on you and your spouse living separately, it should be understood that your separation agreement could change if there were any kind of reconciliation, no matter how brief.

If you are unhappy with your marriage, a separation could be the solution that your family needs in order to move forward in a healthy manner.

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