Occasionally in my practice there is a couple I am working with that are “stuck” and if they continue to stay together they will definitely hurt their chances of perpetual marital bliss. Yet, divorce is not something I encourage though for some it becomes a decision they must make. Sometimes it is helpful for the couple to agree to “trial separation.” In this post you will learn a way to go about a structured or trial separation.
Definition: Terminating cohabitation with a moratorium on the final decision to reunite or divorce – basically a postponement of that decision for a time.
Objective: To address the ambivalence about the marriage from one or both partners.
Factors that suggest this option:
- Extreme conflict
- One spouse feeling increasing frustration and lack of satisfaction from the relationship
- Harmful interactions: abuse, neglect, control
- Indecision regarding commitment
Benefits possible from a structured separation:
- Relief of ongoing conflict that is unproductive
- Minimizing negative interactions
- Breaks the tendency to take each other for granted
- Gaining a healthier sense of independence and self-control
- Provides a time for decision-making without pressure
- Acknowledgement of the significance of marital problems.
- Ability to see what divorce will be like
I have provided an outline of the major considerations that should be discussed and agreed upon when entering into a separation agreement.
Structured Separation Agreement
Identifying the objectives – what are we trying to accomplish by separating?
- You must both agree to do nothing that would intentionally harm the viability of the marriage (i.e., talking bad about your spouse to others, keeping the children from the other parent, carrying on an affair, etc.).
Duration – Minimum of 6 weeks is recommended, and a maximum of 6 months
- What are the financial obligations you have personally and together?
- Making agreements on who will pay for what through the separation time. Try to keep in mind realistically how these might be in the event of a divorce. That way you are gaining an accurate experience.
Frequency of Contact Between Partners
- What are agreeable terms for both of you in regards to time spent together and communication?
- Texting, email, phone calls, face to face, written letters, etc.
- It is recommended you find time at least once a week for one-on-one time.
- It is recommended that you both attend marital counseling through the course of your separation agreement.
- Sexual contact – you must reach a mutually acceptable level of sexual contact during the separation time.
Frequency of Contact with Others
- What are the rules you both want for each other in regards to “dating” others? This is important to spell out specifically.
- Are there certain people who are to be avoided?
Privacy and Issues of Trust
- Both must agree about what the children will be told about this separation and the marriage relationship.
- Access to the others’ mail, email, voicemail, accounts, etc.
- No unannounced spontaneous visits or time spent tracking the other person.
- What are you both going to tell other people? Make sure your message is agreed upon by both of you.
Contact and Responsibilities with Children
- Visitation schedule/custody arrangements
- What are you going to tell the children? Explain the rationale/purpose of the separation to them. Give realistic assurance that you love them and will be there for them, and that this separation is in no way their fault.
- Scheduled family activities at least once a week
- Which parent will be responsible for various activities and duties with the children?