Separation in Marriages: How to Choose the Best Arrangement

Separation in marriages isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. What may work for one family may not work for another. There are three main types of marriage separations: trial, permanent, and legal. While separation in marriages is often thought of as negative, it can actually strengthen a relationship moving forward, or help lead to a more amicable and healthy divorce.

Separation in Marriages

When discussing separation with your partner, make sure that both of you are calm and ready to talk (i.e., not during an argument), and try to avoid anger or defensiveness. While some celebrities like Gywneth Paltrow and Chris Martin may make separation and divorce seem like a beautiful, seamless transition, that’s not always the reality. Many uncouplings are one-sided, with one partner deciding on the separation and the other resisting it.

These general outlines can help you decide which type of marriage separation makes the most sense for you, but of course, researching your specific state laws or discussing it with a legal specialist is a good idea.

Trial Separation

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.

Trial separations allow a couple to reflect on and decide whether reconciliation is possible or if a divorce is what is really wanted. 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).

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 one partner gets a bonus at work, they do not have to share it if they are permanently separated (the same goes for any debt accrued).

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.

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 a 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 the intention of ever divorcing. This could be due to religious, cultural, or financial reasons. 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 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.

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.

Living Arrangements

Usually (but not always), separation in marriages means 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. What times of day and communication methods work for both of you? Do you prefer to speak in person, over the phone, or by text? 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 should also 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. While it’s incredibly challenging and emotional, it’s necessary to focus on what will be the easiest arrangement for the children. 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.

Separation in marriages is never easy, but it’s an opportunity to reflect on whether rekindling things or getting a divorce is the goal. Allow yourself as much time as you need, and whatever your decision, try to keep things honest, amicable, and respectful.


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