Structured Trial Separation How To 

As mentioned in my previous post "Separation or Divorce?", below are some specific guidelines for conducting a structured trial separation. As a refresher, a structured trial separation is an informal splitting for an agreed upon length of time with no legal ramifications. The below list is not exhaustive by any means and will not guarantee preventing divorce, but if both parties communicate and agreed upon rules and goals, there can be an increased chance of reconciliation. 

  1. Determine length of separation - Typically structured trial separations range from 3 - 6 months but can be longer if needed. Both parties must be in agreement on limit and willing to take divorce off the table until time period is over. 

  2. Establishing residence- This can be tough as one partner may be left in the home while another is away in a new or uncomfortable location rather than both leaving. This can also be challenging if there are children in the home who will be affected by losing one parent and may require a switching of responsibility or staying in home as to not overly disrupt kids’ schedules. Make sure to agreed on rules that allow for autonomy, privacy and prevent unscheduled drop-ins.   

  3. Therapy- Schedule permitting, weekly or biweekly individual counseling is preferable with couple’s counseling scheduled when necessary. 

  4. Family finances - Decide together how bills, rent, therapy, kids, food, etc will be handled as two households is an expensive arrangement. 

  5. Childcare(if needed) - Again, creating a smooth and minimally disruptive separation for kids is best. Kids must be informed of arrangement and intent, avoiding use of word divorce, and must never be put in the middle of couple conflict. Respect parental boundaries and share in responsibilities and costs of needed childcare arrangements.  

  6. Personal Contact - Make clear rules for contact both by phone, email and in person. Restrict contact to set times and places. Discuss date nights and sexual expectations as well. Be clear and in agreement and respect your partner’s time away to work on their own goals/needs.

  7. Trust building - Honesty and transparency are a must for both yourself and your partner. Trust building takes time and is painful and difficult as trauma, lies and past abuse erode away at a relationship's foundation. It may seem more harsh to be honest at times, but transparency typically stings less than another lie.