Marital Separation or Divorce: Can Separation Save Your Marriage?

Updated: April 20, 2022
Can separation help couples to save their marriage or does it inevitably lead to divorce? Find out everything you need to know about how separations work and how to rebuild your marriage.
separation can help heal a marriage - or help you to make a final break
Table of contents

When a married couple walks down the aisle, physically or metaphorically, on their wedding day, divorce and separation are the furthest thoughts from their minds. Your wedding day is one of happy beginnings and hopes for life-long togetherness. The unfortunate truth, however, is that many marriages do end in divorce. People change, grow, develop new interests, or take career paths that lead them in a direction they never imagined. And while none of these are excuses for divorce, they are often part of the cause.

According to the United States Census Bureau, the average divorce rate in 2019 was 7.6%. While the statistics indicate a steady decline in divorce rates in the past ten years, marriage rates have also declined. So what do you do when the honeymoon period has passed, stress from jobs, kids, credit card debt, and other factors trickle into your relationship? What do you do when you realize you’re no longer happy?

Well, in some cases, divorce is the only acceptable answer, especially if there has been emotional, psychological, or physical abuse. But, in other instances, a trial separation may be the very thing that saves your marriage.

What Is a Trial Separation?

According to Divorcenet.com, a trial separation is when a couple agrees to spend time away from each other. Typically, one of the spouses temporarily moves out of the home or moves to a separate bedroom if that is not financially viable. Couples with children may also choose to conduct their trial separation in the same home for the sake of the mental health and wellbeing of the children and to continue as co-parents with ease.

A trial separation is not a legal agreement and does not affect your property rights or financial claim as a legal separation might.

The Benefits of a Trial Separation

  • It gives couples trying to reconcile a chance to see what living apart is like
  • It allows both partners to work through personal issues that may be affecting the relationship
  • It eliminates premature legal separation and divorce, which may not be needed

What is a Legal Separation?

A legal separation requires the involvement of the court system and requires couples to make an official request to be recognized as legally separated. Legal separation is not acknowledged in all states, so it is essential to check your individual state’s laws before proceeding.

The legal separation process involves several steps, which will vary by state and have specific qualifications that need to be met.

Unlike a trial separation, a legal separation will usually state child custody arrangements, alimony or spousal support, and child support. In addition, one spouse must serve it to the other in a verified fashion.

What are the Benefits of a Legal Separation

  • Separation allows for the possibility of reconciliation
  • You can still file joint taxes
  • Legally separated couples maintain healthcare coverage if one spouse is the cardholder
  • You can avoid religious issues if divorce is not typically accepted within the couple’s religion
  • If the couple eventually follows through with divorce proceedings, the separation agreement can serve as a blueprint

How Do I Know if I Should Try a Separation from My Spouse?

Choosing to separate is extremely difficult, but it may be necessary for your mental health and personal growth. So how do you know if trying a separation is the right thing to do? The short answer is you won’t know until you’ve tried, and the deciding factors will vary slightly for each couple. But here are some clues that a separation might be a step you need to take.

  • You feel as if separation would improve your quality of life
  • Your partner no longer seems interested in the marriage
  • You rarely or never spend time together
  • You’ve lost romantic or sexual interest in your partner or vice versa
  • You feel that the children or finances are the only roadblocks preventing you from trying a separation
  • Your spouse is abusing you or your children

Ultimately, the decision to separate should be one that brings empowerment and peace to your life, but it will be rocky at first. Many parents say they stay together for the children. But, the truth is that children whose parents fight constantly and raise them in an unstable and hostile home are ultimately worse off than children whose parents leave an unhappy marriage.

While divorce is undoubtedly difficult for children, there are some benefits of divorce for kids over an angry and argumentative home.

  • Children get happier and calmer parents
  • Children are raised in two homes without constant arguing
  • Children learn the power of and the skills of compromising
  • Children learn the importance of personal happiness
  • Children have a calmer emotional baseline

How Do I Prepare Myself and My Children for a Separation?

The most crucial thing you and your partner can do is sit down with your children as a united front and explain to them, at an age and developmentally appropriate level, what is going to happen. This means you and your spouse must figure out all the nitty-gritty before sitting down with the kids and be prepared for their questions.

Reassure your children that they are loved and that they have done nothing wrong. Help them understand that this separation is happening because you and your spouse need some time apart to learn how to be better friends and parents.

Depending on your children’s ages, consider checking out some books on divorce from the library and setting up an appointment with a child psychologist.

Depending on who initially brought up the idea of separation, be prepared for resentment and hostility. It takes time to heal, and this experience is likely affecting both you and your partner’s self-esteem.

Consider marriage counseling during the separation as a way to work through issues together. If you are entering a legal separation, in most cases, dating or sexual intercourse with your spouse could cause you legal problems down the line if you eventually continue with the divorce process.

If you decide to enter into a legal separation, be sure to include aspects of marital property division as being too casual could come back to bite you if divorce is the end game. You also need to avoid any new relationships as this could reflect poorly on you during the divorce proceedings or interfere with an uncontested divorce claim.

Is It Really Possible for Separation to Save My Marriage?

Recognizing the need for separation means you recognize that your relationship is in trouble; it does not always signify the beginning of the end. Many couples discover that they learn to appreciate the other person more and begin to respect them again during a separation. Constant bickering and nagging, as well as complete dismissal and lack of engagement from our partners, tend to blind us to the reasons we fell in love with them in the first place.

There is some merit in the saying, “Absence makes the heart grow stronger.” When we are not confronted daily with all the things that have been bothering us about our partner and our relationship, we can step back and process things better.

For any relationship to work, you must be an active listener, and both parties must want reconciliation to happen. As much as you or your partner may want to save the marriage, it must be something you both want. If either one of you is no longer in it for the long haul and is secretly longing for a new beginning, it is likely your marriage will end as a divorce case.

While it is certainly possible that a separation could be the jolt your relationship needs to keep going, it could just as likely end in divorce. If you are still on the fence about whether separation is the right step for you and your family it may be helpful to read Separation: Beginning of the End, or a New Beginning?

If you are the victim of domestic abuse, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE(7232) or visit their website at www.thehotline.org. Not all abuse is physical. Emotional and psychological abuse is still domestic abuse. Click on the link provided to see the warning signs of domestic abuse.

Disclaimer: The advice contained within this article is not to be considered or used as legal advice. Please contact a family law office for more information and legal counsel pertaining to separation and divorce.