5 Legal Ways To Separate When You're Not Ready For Divorce

There are a lot of options to explore between marriage and divorce.

Last updated on Apr 14, 2024

Contemplating divorce Peopleimages.com - YuriArcurs | Canva

You suddenly found yourself in an unhappy and loveless marriage. You're seeing signs your marriage is over, but you know you're not ready for divorce. But what else is there? 

Can a marriage truly end — or at least take a legal pause — without going through the whole divorce process? Absolutely. And sometimes it's the best choice for you. Not divorcing can be beneficial but can leave things murky or expose you to potential risks. You have to decide what is best for you and how you want to move forward.


RELATED: How To End A Marriage With Dignity

Here are five legal alternatives for ending a marriage without the need for a divorce

Rules and laws around divorce and separation vary depending on location. These are five common options, but just to be safe, check in with a local divorce expert to be sure you know your exact options.


1. Get an annulment

An annulment is a legal decree that means the marriage is null and void like it never happened. Divorce ends the marriage but recognizes that the marriage existed and lasted for a certain period. After an annulment, you (and your spouse) will be free to remarry or enter into a registered domestic partnership.

The grounds for obtaining an annulment are typically limited. States have different measures for when a marriage may be annulled, and you’ll need to research what yours are, but some common allowable reasons are:

  • Incest (Specific familial relationships that apply will depend on state law.)
  • Bigamy (If you or your spouse were already married or in a registered domestic partnership.)
  • Incurable impotence (Not known at the time of marriage.)
  • Force, fraud, misrepresentation, concealment, or lack of consent, under duress or through incapacity (mental or physical)
  • If you or your spouse were not of legal marital age.
  • If you or your spouse married while your judgment was impaired by drugs or alcohol.

Generally, someone has to be at fault. They lied or intentionally duped you, and the lie needs to be significant — if you had known, you would not have married them. There could have been concealment or the hiding of material facts, not necessarily lying about them.

Did your spouse hide the fact they had a criminal record? Did your spouse purposefully neglect to tell you they are not physically able to have children? Or can, but do not want to have them? It is a significant issue when you want children and learn your spouse cannot or will not have them.


Getting an annulment awarded is generally rare and difficult. The burden of proof is on you to prove circumstances warrant the annulment, and you must provide the necessary evidence.

Additionally, similar to a divorce, you will divide any assets acquired during your marriage. And if you have any minor children, questions about child custody will need to be addressed.

tension while she waits for him to sign the paperPhoto: fizkes via Shutterstock


2. File for a separation

There are three common types of separation: trial, permanent, and legal. Many couples choose to remain married but effectively end their marriage through separation. As noted above, in the eyes of the law, you will still be legally married and can't remarry or live in a registered domestic partnership.

In many states, separation affects your rights, so you will want to seek the advice of legal counsel before separating if possible. Also, the date of your separation can impact your rights and is often hotly contested. Do your research to see if separation is a viable option for you.

If you’re not sure you want to end your marriage, it’s much easier to reconcile. You can revoke the separation. If you’re divorced, you would have to go through the process of getting married again.

Please note if you’re considering a legal separation (rather than divorce) so that you may keep your health insurance, check with your plan before moving ahead. Many insurance companies consider separation the same as divorce and may use it as grounds to terminate your health benefits.


3. Test out a trial separation

A trial separation is when you and your spouse need a break. You want time and space to think things through and see if you’re headed toward reconciliation or ending the marriage. You don’t necessarily need to have any written or formal agreement, although many divorce experts will suggest that you have at least an informal agreement outlining who does what and when.

For example, will you continue to share finances during this time? Who will live where? Will you communicate with each other? How often? Will it be on your own or with the help of a therapist or couple’s counselor? If you have children, what will you say to them? How will the trial separation affect them?



4. Declare a permanent separation

Permanent separation is when you and your spouse live apart and have no intention of reconciling. As mentioned above, research how your state legally defines separation. Are you protected if your spouse incurs any new debts? Are you entitled to any assets or income your spouse earns after you separate? These questions may affect your plans and the decisions you’ll make. Also, moving out of the marital home may impact child custody. It’s important to know before you go.


5. Get a legal separation

Like a divorce, legal separation results in a formal division of your finances, property, other assets, and orders related to custody of your children.

Legal separation also addresses child and spousal support and how debts will be divided. It requires paperwork that you file with the court system, which turns into a court order, similar to a divorce. However, your status does not change. You remain legally married. It is easier to divorce if you or your spouse decide to move in that direction, as most of the legal legwork has already been done.

RELATED: What I Found After Losing My Husband, Home & Dream For My Kids

A few risks that come with separation instead of divorce

Unless you have a legal separation filed and ratified by the courts, a trial or permanent separation generally does not change the financial responsibilities between you and your spouse.


You still have an active fiduciary responsibility to each other and the partnership. If your spouse acquires debt, you’re still on the hook for your share. If you win the lottery, your spouse is still entitled to their share.

What if you’re separated and you or your spouse dies? There could be a mess for the survivors. Legal separation preserves each spouse's legal rights to property benefits upon the death of the other, but a divorce extinguishes these rights.

There’s a risk you could lose track of your spouse altogether, which will leave you in the lurch if you need their consent or signature. Maybe one day, you’ll decide you want to divorce because you met someone and want to remarry, and your spouse is nowhere to be found. This would be problematic.


she removes her wedding ring while he does not noticePhoto: Guitarfoto via Shutterstock

People end their marriages for all sorts of reasons, but it usually boils down to the fact they are unhappy. The partnership is dysfunctional and beyond repair. Their life is either a lie or a fantasy. They long to be more genuine and authentic.

The path you take to this new life is up to you. Will you be able to live in your marriage as it is? Will you be able to reinvent it after working with a therapist or a divorce coach? Or is it time to end it and move on?


Can you end your marriage without a divorce through annulment or separation? Or is it time to dig deeper and look at a more final and clear-cut ending?

RELATED: How To End A Marriage — Without Feeling Guilty

Kira Gould is a certified divorce coach specializing in working with women who would like to get married with clarity, compassion, and positive intentions.