Depending on who you ask, the term “trial separation” may mean taking a break from your marriage or living apart temporarily. In most cases, couples who are thinking about separating this way are not ready to move forward with divorce but also recognize they don’t want to live together. If you have been considering this option, you probably want to know: Is a trial separation worth the effort?
Brookfield, WI Attorney and Mediator Karyn Youso of First Look Family Law has experience helping clients understand their options during Wisconsin separation and divorce and can help you evaluate your circumstances.
What is a Trial Separation?
As the name implies, a trial separation occurs when a married couple decides not to stay together on an informal or temporary basis. The couple does not have to petition a court to have a trial separation. A trial separation is not a formal separation under the law, it is just the decision to physically separate for a period of time.
In Wisconsin, if a married couple wants to formally separate, they can do so by filing a petition with a WI court. Formal separation allows the parties to have many of the same issues legally determined as in a Wisconsin divorce case. By contrast, a trial separation is conducted between the parties by their own agreement outside of court.
Why Do You Want a Trial Separation?
Before you can decide whether a trial separation would be worth the effort, you probably need to know what you and your partner both want from the experience. Sometimes when a couple chooses to separate on an experimental basis, it’s because one person wants the relationship to work and the other doesn’t.
It’s important to ask if you and your spouse are being honest with each other about the reasons for the separation. Therefore, it’s vital that before you begin your trial separation, you and your spouse have an open and honest discussion about why you are making this choice. This talk will allow you to clarify any goals you may have for your time apart.
Self-improvement or self-growth?
You may also want to establish a limit for how long you want to maintain the separation before touching base about the future. Give yourself a deadline by which you’ll re-evaluate your circumstances.
Is a Formal Separation Better?
It’s important to determine before you separate if a trial separation is appropriate for your family. As explained above, a trial separation is an informal agreement between the people involved. By contrast, a legal separation provides protection and legal decisions regarding several key issues. If you are concerned about certain legal issues, a formal separation may be more appropriate for you.
When you file a formal petition for separation, you can determine matters such as legal custody physical placement of children, and child support. Further, marital assets and property will be divided. One benefit is that spouses can sometimes remain on each other’s health insurance when separated, and can still file joint tax returns.
Another is that legally separated couples can maintain their “marriage” for moral or religious reasons while legally living apart. The separated couple can live as they choose without being divorced. If the two decide to reconcile, they can file a motion to vacate the judgment of separation and return to being married. If they later divorce, most issues will have already been decided at the time they separated.
Is a Trial Separation Worth the Effort?
Knowing whether a trial separation is worth the effort it will take to establish another household and live apart will be unique to your circumstances and the reasons for separating. If you had good communication about why you were separating and set goals, the experience might help you and your spouse clarify your next steps.
If things were unclear and the purpose was undefined, the separation period could end up creating more distance in the relationship and raising more questions about your future.