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Can a trial separation save your relationship?

What is a trial separation?

A trial separation is an informal arrangement between couples who are unsure whether to divorce and have hopes of repairing their marriage and rebuilding their relationship. 

They can give couples time to take a step back and get a better perspective on their relationship, without the formality of legal proceedings.

Although thought by some as the first step in breaking up, and that it won’t help mend a relationship, a trial separation that is thoughtfully planned, with clear boundaries, can be a bridge to reconciliation.

What are the benefits of a trial separation?

A trial separation can help get things back on track by helping you to see things from a different perspective and understanding where the problems in the relationship lie. 

It can give you space to think about why you got married in the first place and what issues have been causing problems in your relationship. 

Having some space can help you to take time out from each other and break the pattern of arguing and conflict.

A trial separation can enable you to see what life might be like without your partner if you do divorce.

People often find that time apart can make them realise the importance of their marriage. As the saying goes: “You don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone” 

How does a trial separation work?

So, can a trial separation save your relationship? Before you start, it’s important to sit down with your partner and talk through the purpose of the trial separation as this will make the process much easier for both of you. 

Consider the following points, 

What you want to get out of the trial separation?

You need to be honest about what the point of the separation is and that you’re going to be working towards the same goal. 

Are you trying to decide if you still love each other, or are you just trying to see if you can live alone? 

Do you really want a trial separation with the prospect of getting back together, or do you want a divorce? 

Decide how long you are going to separate for. 

Three to six months is often thought of as a reasonable length of time to get a clear picture of life without your partner. 

This will vary from couple to couple, but it’s healthy if you can both decide on this together. The longer a trial separation is though, the general consensus is that it is less likely it is that you will get back together. 

Where are you both going to live?

There are financial implications if one of you is going to be moving to rented accommodation. Who will pay the rent and can you afford it? Or will one of you move in with other family members or a friend?

Making arrangements for the children

Who will the children live with? When will both of you see the children? Setting out visiting arrangements beforehand will give you all peace of mind. 

Telling the children what is happening and why is vital. It’s always best, to be honest with them to reassure them.

Dealing with the finances

It’s essential to clarify financial arrangements beforehand, as these can easily create further conflict, so decide who will pay the household bills, mortgage/rent, costs relating to the children. 

If you have a joint account, will you still both have access to that money, or will you set up separate accounts? 

Decide beforehand about spending limits – what if one of you books an expensive holiday, or runs up a large credit card bill? Who will pay?


Will the person who moves out be allowed to come and go as they want? Will you have a formal arrangement for meeting up?

How often will you see each other? 

We recommend that you meet up from time to time to talk about how you’re getting on. It’s a good idea to keep talking. 

What about dating?

Agree beforehand whether you will date other people during your trial separation. If one partner does and the other does not, this will cause difficulties. 

Keep talking

If you find it hard to talk about things and cannot reach any sort of agreement, then seeing a relationship counsellor can be very helpful to guide you both and help to keep communication channels open. 

A relationship counsellor can help keep you both focussed and help prevent the same arguments and stop the negative spiral.  

Counsellors have experience of dealing with relationships and know the potential pitfalls that can occur and so can help guide you into reaching an agreement. 

Our online directory offers a range of counsellors and therapists who have been recommended to us if you are looking for someone in your local area. 

What are the disadvantages of a trial separation?

Some people think a trial separation is just running away from your problems and not staying around to address the underlying issues.

They can put additional strain on an already complicated relationship. 

If you have children, the separation can be very confusing for them, and the anxiety of upsetting the children can add to the pressure you are already feeling.

By being apart, it can create too much distance between you as a couple.

Do I need to see a lawyer before we separate?

You do not have to, but it is often a good idea to both take independent legal advice if you are taking a trial separation. A family solicitor can help you with a separation agreement which can incorporate all the practical aspects of living apart. 

They can also help if your spouse is harassing you or breaks the agreement.

A family lawyer can also ensure that you receive any financial support you are entitled to. 

Can a trial separation save your relationship?

A trial separation will not work for everybody, but, if both of you are willing to give it a try, it can sometimes help to get a relationship/marriage back on track. If not, at least you can look back and say you exhausted all options before going through with a divorce.

Get in touch

If you wish to make a find out more about if a trial separation can save your relationship or you would like further advice, please do contact our  Client Care Team here to speak to one of our specialist divorce lawyers.

The blog team at Stowe is a group of writers based across our family law offices who share their advice on the wellbeing and emotional aspects of divorce or separation from personal experience. As well as pieces from our family law solicitors, guest contributors also regularly contribute to share their knowledge.

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  1. Mitch Miers says:

    Thoughtful points for a subject we don’t give much thought too in my area.

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