Does In-House Separation Work?

Updated March 26, 2024by Regain Editorial Team

The potential end of a marriage is stressful for all parties involved. Separating assets, deciding custody, and laying out the ground rules for the separation all require skills commonly lacking in partners considering divorce. Depending on the couple, an in-house separation could increase or relieve some of that stress. In-house separations are often trial separations, meaning the partners are taking time apart but leaving the option to return to the marriage open.

Couples are often forced into in-house separations due to financial or logistical constraints and may struggle to complete the separation process successfully. In other cases, in-home separations can help strengthen bonds and lead to reconciliation. The dynamic of the separating partners at the time of separation matters more than whether they live together during the process.

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Types of separation                                                              

There are a few ways to proceed with the separation process. One is a trial separation or separation with the intent to reconcile. A trial separation can be an effective way to resolve marital conflict if done properly. Trial separations work best when both partners establish ground rules and limits for the separation. Agreements about housing, custody of children, money, and other important topics should be discussed at the start of the separation.

While trial separations are used for couples who wish to consider reconciliation, permanent separation is reserved for those who know that their marriage has run its course. Some states require a couple to live apart for a separation to become permanent, meaning in-house separation is a potentially non-viable option. Separating couples should pay close attention to relevant state laws to determine what factors the state considers when determining if a separation is permanent.  

If their state allows, a couple might also consider legal separation. Being legally separated is legally different from being divorced or married. The couple isn't legally married anymore, but they aren't legally divorced either, meaning spouses cannot marry another person. Legal separations include specifics about property, custody, alimony and child support that are legally binding and enforced by the court.

State laws regarding legal separation vary considerably; it may be possible to proceed with an in-house separation in one state but not another. Be sure to carefully check your state laws or consult an attorney before proceeding with a legal separation.

Trial or permanent?

Many spouses struggle to decide how to proceed with their separation. If you and your spouse are debating whether to attempt a trial separation or call it quits for good, consider discernment counseling. Discernment counseling is a therapeutic process wherein you, your spouse, and a counselor work to determine the direction of your marriage. The counselor helps you and your spouse remain non-confrontational and express your true feelings about your marriage.

licensed counselor can also help spouses get their separation off to a good start. If you and your spouse decide to do a trial separation, the therapist can help you ensure that the separation is a healthy process that gives your marriage the best chance of success. If you and your spouse decide to end your marriage, the counselor can help you set up ground rules and establish communication guidelines to ease the emotional burden of the divorce process.

What's different about in-house separation?

There is very little that is different between in-house separation and traditional separation. Like a separation where partners live apart, you and your spouse must make appropriate plans, set ground rules, and demonstrate enough respect for each other to follow the guidelines you set. In-house separation is generally best for couples who remain amicable while considering divorce; anger, bitterness, and resentment can turn a shared living area into a toxic space for both partners.

Sometimes, in-house separations are not optional. Finding a new place for one partner to live can take time and be costly. Financial concerns and other barriers to a partner finding a new place to live can put partners in the position of not being able to live apart in the near future. Financial constraints or other barriers can add stress to a separation, whether or not it is in-house. Be sure to evaluate and address other sources of stress besides the separation itself.

Most of the rules that apply to a traditional separation also apply to an in-house separation.

Regardless of whether a separation is in-house or traditional, both partners need to have enough respect for each other to communicate effectively, collaborate, and solve problems.


Effective trial separations

In a trial separation, both partners agree to spend time apart for a sustained period of time. Spouses may engage in a trial separation to have the time to assess the goals and directions of their marriage adequately, or they may use a trial separation to address personal concerns and work on themselves.

Both partners must agree to a trial separation for it to be effective. If one partner is certain they do not want the marriage to continue and their spouse convinces them to try a trial separation, reconciliation is unlikely. In either a traditional or in-house trial separation, communication is key. 

While there are no hard and fast rules for spouses engaging in a trial separation, there are some helpful guidelines you can follow. John Gottman, a psychologist and relationship expert, identified eight basic rules to give your separation the best chance of success:

  1. Be specific, honest, and vulnerable about your needs. Talk to your partner about your concerns and what will happen during the separation.
  2. Set boundaries and expectations. Have a detailed discussion with your spouse about what is and is not permitted during the separation. Before discussing them with your spouse, consider which ground rules are important to you.
  3. Attend therapy regularly. Therapy during separation can be extraordinarily helpful if your goal is to fix your marriage. A therapist can help guide the separation and address concerns from your marriage.
  4. Don't assume your partner wants the same things you do. You and your partner separated for a reason, don't expect immediate change.
  5. If you have children, talk to them honestly. Young children should not be informed of the possibility of the separation ending in divorce, but children over twelve can handle that information.
  6. Don't date other people. If you have any hope of your marriage working out, don't date others during your separation.
  7. Take time for self-exploration. One of the goals of your separation should be to learn more about yourself, not just repair the marriage.
  8. Stay optimistic and connected with your partner. Staying in touch with your partner and communicating positivity can help rebuild bonds. Separation is a reprieve from anger and resentment, so be sure to approach your partner positively.

For an in-house separation, the general rules are the same, with extra attention paid to how each partner uses the space. You and your spouse will need to decide firm guidelines about how you will split the use of the space. For an in-house separation to be effective, both partners need ample time alone, and old routines should be abandoned.

Separating permanently

If you are certain your marriage is over, an in-house separation will likely be more difficult than a traditional one. If you're forced to do an in-house separation due to financial constraints or other factors, such as raising children, you and your partner should strongly consider a legal separation, so long as your state laws allow you to obtain a legal separation while living together.

The general guidelines for a permanent separation are simple. Both you and your spouse must commit to healthy communication and establish ground rules for the separation process. Good communication and cooperation can bypass many of the challenges associated with a permanent separation, whether traditional or in-house.

If you and your spouse have children, consider working with a licensed counselor to help them transition. The mediation of a counselor can not only reduce the impact of the divorce on your children but its impact on you and your spouse as well. You will need to continue working with your spouse to raise your children, and a counselor can help lay the groundwork for healthy co-parenting.

Are you considering separation?

Getty/Vadym Pastukh

How can online therapy help?

With online therapy, you can visit a licensed therapist from the comfort of your home. Separating can be a stressful, busy process, and online therapy can remove the added stress of traveling to visit a therapist in a physical office. A licensed therapist practicing online can offer you and your spouse discernment counseling, guide you through a separation, or help mediate a divorce. Online therapists have the same qualifications as therapists who see clients in person, and the techniques they use are just as effective online.

Counselor reviews

Their outside perspective and experience can be just what you and your spouse need to figure out how to repair your marriage and rebuild it into something stronger.

Meet Our Therapists

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Stephen Robinson - MA, LCMHCS, LCAS

Darcy Dobb - LCSW, MHPP

Debra Jenkins - MSW, LCSW-C


In-house separations can work if both partners are ready and willing to put in the effort. Like a traditional separation, in-house separations require good communication, respect, and guidelines. Partners should negotiate ground rules before the separation that define what is and is not allowed. Separations are unpredictable and will end in either reconciliation or divorce. However, good communication and cooperation can ensure productive, peaceful conversations, whatever the end goal may be. If spouses have trouble coming together to plan their separation, a licensed counselor may be able to assist.

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