A trial separation may
allow the spouse who wants the divorce (whom I call the "leaver") to experience
some of the feelings of being separated without making a final decision
to divorce. The main advantage of a trial separation, of course, is that
it's easily reversible. You can try it for a while, go through
and then reconcile, or you can try it for a while and then proceed with
If you and your spouse
separate, you can do it one of two ways: an informal separation or a formal
legal separation. An informal separation is basically whatever the two
of you agree for it to be. Typically, one of you would stay where the two
of you were living before, and the other would move into some other quarters.
You typically wouldn't make any formal property division,
but you would agree (again informally) on some kind of
arrangement about possession of things like cars,
the bank accounts, the credit cards, and the stereo.
A formal legal separation
is more permanent, more complicated, and more expensive. It's also much
less common. It's nearly as expensive as a divorce (sometimes more so,
because it's less common, so you have to pay your lawyer to scratch his
or her head and figure out how to do everything). And often people who
get a formal legal separation wind up having to go through all the
time, and expense again later to get
an actual divorce.
So why would anyone
go through a formal legal separation?
Some states require
that a couple seeking a divorce have been separated for some period of
time, so maybe it's needed for that.
Some couples need to
be separated, but they need to remain legally married, perhaps so one can
continue to be insured for medical or other purposes by the other's company.
Formal legal separation makes this possible.
Sometimes there's no
question that the couple is moving toward divorce, but they know it will
take some time to work everything out. If their incomes are substantially
different, it may be worth it to develop a written separation agreement
so the person paying alimony can deduct the alimony
on his or her tax return. The paying spouse might
be able to pay the receiving spouse more than enough to pay the tax on
the alimony, and still come out ahead.
Sometimes one of the
spouses has a religious objection to divorce.
A formal separation may allow the spouses to remain married even as they
that, there may not be much of a reason to go through the time, pain, and
expense of a formal legal separation. Better perhaps to agree to reach
a working arrangement for an informal
separation. You can then follow it up directly with either reconciliation