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Types Of Marital Separations

by Theresa Hoffman

Married couples have different reasons for separating. However, you should understand the different forms of separation, and what they mean for your circumstances before separating. Below are the common forms of separation.


Trial separation occurs when a couple agrees to separate for some time to determine where their marriage is headed. Some couples opt for trial separation when their marriage is on the rocks but they have not decided on divorce. For example, you can opt for trial separation to give yourselves time to think or seek marital counseling.

Note that nothing changes, as far as the government is concerned, during trial separation. For example, you still own your marital assets together, are jointly responsible for your debts, and are still married. Therefore, resist the urge to act divorced or single during this period. For example, don't start another romantic liaison if you don't want adultery accusations.


Unlike trial separation, permanent separation means you have decided to live apart without any hope or desire for reconciliation but don't want to divorce yet. A trial separation can morph into permanent separation if you don't reconcile after some time. For example, you might decide to permanently separate if counseling convinces you that your marriage is over.

The legal status of permanent separation depends on state law. For example, some states consider the properties you acquire after permanent separation separate property. Other states still consider you married even during permanent separation until you divorce.

Understand your state laws so you don't make mistakes that can jeopardize your plans. For example, interludes of reconciliation during your separation will keep resetting your separation date. The resets will complicate your separation period and the classification of marital assets.


Legal separation means you have the court's permission to separate, but you are not divorced. Not all jurisdictions allow or have laws on legal separation. For those that allow legal separation, separating couples have to negotiate or litigate contentious issues, such as asset division, alimony, and child support.

Legal separation is similar to divorce in some aspects and different in others. Evaluate your circumstances and state law to determine whether separation or divorce will achieve your objectives best. For example, don't assume you will stay on your partner's health insurance plan after legal separation; find out if that's possible first.

Reach out to a family law attorney in your area for more information on this topic.