When marital problems feel insurmountable, divorce may be the first thought that comes to mind. But you can take other steps before making the very serious decision to end a marriage. A trial separation is one option. This informal agreement between spouses is an opportunity to take a break from the relationship and live apart for a set amount of time. During this time, there are no legal changes to the marriage, finances, or property rights. Here are a few reasons you may want to consider separation before divorce.
- Financial protection. The most practical reason to separate instead of—or ahead of—divorce comes down to money. If you are still legally married, you and your spouse can take advantage of filing joint tax returns and preserve your insurance and health care coverage. There are also advantages when it comes to retirement plans, pensions, and Social Security. In fact, some couples postpone divorce until they meet the 10-year requirement for Social Security benefits.
- Social and family considerations. Every couple is different, and no set of circumstances is exactly the same. Separation may be the ideal solution if you and your spouse still love each other but can’t happily live together or don’t want to divorce because it goes against your religious beliefs. In other cases, it’s just easier to avoid the complications of divorce if neither of you plan to remarry. Then, of course, there’s the impact on the family. If you have children, separation may spare them some trauma by easing them into the big changes that come with divorce. It can also allow for more stability in their lives as you and your spouse work out custody, schedules, expenses, and other issues to provide the best care for them.
- The possibility of reconciliation. Separation can help you and your spouse gain perspective on and even strengthen your marriage, especially if you intentionally approach it as a way to stay together rather than a step in the divorce process. Or, you may plan to divorce but then realize that it isn’t the right option after spending some trial time apart. Either way, ending a marriage is a life-altering decision. Even if a separation doesn’t lead to reconciliation, it’s likely that you and your spouse will feel more comfortable with your decision if you’ve thought things through.
- More time to sort out divorce terms. The reality is that most separations end in divorce, and divorce is a difficult and complicated process. But there’s little advantage to rushing the divorce settlement agreement at the height of your emotional turmoil. Separation may allow time for you and your spouse to cool off, evaluate your feelings, and approach the terms of the divorce with a more reasonable attitude. It’s best to be in a clear and healthy state of mind when making decisions about child support and custody, spousal support, property and asset distribution, and joint debts.
There’s a right way and a wrong way to go about separation. It’s not a time to cut off your spouse, explore new romantic relationships or revisit old flames, or engage in other behaviors that are bad for your marriage. Communicate with your spouse, agree to a timeline and ground rules for the time apart, and set realistic goals together. Counseling, as a couple or individually, can also be very helpful as you sort out your feelings and how to move forward.
Dr. David Lowenstein is a Columbus, Ohio-based psychologist with more than 35 years of experience. He conducts individual, family, and group therapy sessions in his German Village office and also via telehealth. Dr. Lowenstein is also available for expert forensic testimony, and for educational workshops and presentations. He is frequently called upon as an expert source for print, radio, and broadcast media. Contact Dr. Lowenstein at Lowenstein & Associates, 691 South Fifth Street, Columbus, Ohio, 43206, or call 614.443.6155 or 614.444.0432.