FAQs: Trial Separation in California

What is a trial separation?

A trial separation is when parties no longer act as a married couple but do so on the basis that it is essentially a test run. The parties often live apart, and lead separate and distinct lives. . If they have children, the parties will act in a fashion envisioned with a formalized parenting plan. A trial separation is an opportunity to practice divorce without either party formalizing anything.

What are the goals and purposes of a trial separation?

The goals and purpose of a trial separation is to determine whether the parties prefer to live together or separately. For some, it’s a test if absence makes the heart grow fonder. For others, it is the way for the parties to determine whether they have the resources to live separately and the means to adequately care for children (if they have any) apart from the other parent.

What are conditions that make a trial separation a good idea?

Trial separations require both parties to be on the same page. Both parties have to go in with the same mindset. There should be sufficient discussion on the duration of the trial, what parameters for dating are allowed, co-parenting plan (if applicable), and limitations on the disposition of assets.

What are conditions that make a trial separation not a good fit?

Conditions that make a trial separation difficult or contentious are when the separation leaves another parent on unequal footing. If one parent has to rely on the other for support, that can lead to angst, mistrust and/or resentment. Parties can have support as a component, but the communication and agreements must be clear.

How might a trial separation affect date of separation should you move forward with a divorce?

The date of separation is generally based on when the parties no longer consider themselves married. Usually, it is accompanied by an action reflecting separation and/or a written confirmation of intent to separate. A trial separation can blur the lines of the parties intent. The intent of the parties should be clear. I would encourage an written instrument or chain of communication to be kept. The parties are separating, and if the parties decide after a certain number of months to reconcile, they will reevaluate. In the alternative, the parties are not separated and are using this time to evaluate their marital status. If the parties intend to separate, they will review after a certain number of months. This language can have giant financial impacts on property division, retirements, length of support etc.

Read more: Financial Considerations When Preparing for Divorce

Is outlining terms for a trial separation something a family law attorney helps couples do?

If you are considering a trial separation, you may want to meet with an attorney to ensure your interests are protected and how you want to tailor the language of any trial separation. An outline of the terms may be necessary for clarity of intent and securing marital interests.

What is good advice for couples who are outlining the terms of a trial separation?

Lay out all the things that could happen during the separation that could ultimately lead to the trial separation being a permanent decision. Go over each topic. If you can’t come to an agreement on each one, then you need to decide if the trial is even viable. Usually people need to at least discuss support, timeshare with kids, property, dating, other party access and degree of communication with each other.