The old cliche that “absence makes the heart grow fonder” may seem like a lot of bunk, especially if your relationship is facing tough times, but a trial separation can be a useful intervention in saving your marriage. While a temporary separation isn’t the proper tool to save every relationship, it can help many couples figure out that losing the family and partnership they’ve worked so hard on isn’t the best course of action.
Set Up Some Guidelines And Agreements
While a formal agreement isn’t necessary you should still discuss the terms of your trial separation and write up an informal agreement for time spent apart to ensure you and your spouse are on the same page about the purpose of the separation and to establish guidelines for maintaining a sense of trust. Your agreement should also address financial aspects, such as who pays how much for shared expenses related to children, for example, while you’re living in two different households.
Set a goal for your time apart. You and your partner both need to be in agreement that the purpose of the separation is to enhance your relationship. If one partner views it as a stepping stone to divorce, a trial separation is not likely to work. If you have kids in the mix, it’s important to also include a parenting schedule that will ensure they have time with you both.
Communicate your expectations to one another. Work out when and how you’ll communicate and what you need in order to make your time apart successful. Knowing what to expect helps establish trust and gives you the security of knowing what to reasonably expect from your partner: both with regard to what they are and aren’t doing.
Before you make the final decision to move out, even if reconciliation seems unlikely, consult your attorney. You may not be able to maintain the legal financial requirements if you make a hasty departure. In New Jersey, the financial status quo must be maintained while your divorce is pending. This means that if you were the person who paid most of the bills, you will have to keep doing that for your spouse in the household you left, plus manage the finances in a separate home.
Enlist Outside Help
While it’s possible for a couple to separate on a temporary basis without help, it’s infinitely more successful if you have the support of a third party. Get someone you both trust to help mediate conflicts, communicate expectations and provide support during the separation period. A neutral third party can ease tensions and provide support to both partners during their time away from one another. Outside help can come from a therapist, counselor, lawyer, clergyperson or trained mediator.
Your third party support can also help you figure out how to use the time apart constructively. For example, if you suffer from depression, anxiety or need to learn how to deal with anger, you can use this time to reach out to a therapist and get help that will allow you to return to your marriage as a more confident, healthy version of yourself.
Communicate and Communicate Some More
You’ve probably heard that the secret to a working relationship is clear, open and honest communication. This is, perhaps, even truer when you and your partner are taking time apart to enhance your relationship. A lack of communication during a trial separation creates an “out of sight, out of mind” mentality rather than helping to mend a strained partnership.
Communicate and do so often according to the expectations you set forth at the beginning of your trial separation period — do so through or with the help of your neutral third party, if necessary.
When a Trial Separation Isn’t the Answer
A temporary separation is just one tool to help mend a bruised relationship. If your marriage is under strain because of a breach of trust, a trial separation isn’t likely to successfully help mend it — at least not right away.
If you or your spouse are dead set on divorce, a trial separation is not the way to make the process easier or less heartbreaking — in fact, it can make things harder. As previously mentioned, if you move out of your family home while your divorce is in process, New Jersey law requires that you maintain the financial status quo, so you’re still going to be paying the same bills you did while living with your spouse, plus the new ones you’d incur in a new household.
Trial Separations as a Means to Healing
A trial separation can be a powerful, healing experience for your marriage but it rarely works without help. Before you choose to proceed with separation or full on divorce, speak to sources of neutral, third party support, including but not limited to therapists and mediators. Your separation can have a lot of consequences for your family and financial picture. Before you make a final decision, seek professional advice from your attorney.
Choosing a divorce is a major life step, one that should not be made hastily. If you do want to proceed with a trial separation, be sure to consult an attorney. At Rodríguez Family Law, we’ve helped lots of people navigate the road from marriage to trial separation, we can help you, too! Give us a call today at 862-241-1228 or you can send us an email. We’re here to help.