Depending on where you live, legal separation might be an option if you're considering divorce, but not yet ready for it. However, there are states that don't have this type of mechanism in place.
This doesn't mean a couple cannot agree to separate, unofficially. In other words, there is nothing preventing two people from choosing to take a break from the marriage, live separately from each other for a while, and then decide what to do later—assuming both parties agree on how the "separation" period will work financially, and regarding custody, if children are involved.
In many instances, taking a break from each other, or separating, is a healthy choice for those going through a difficult time in a marriage.
Filing for divorce is final, and opens each side up to additional stresses and expenses that neither person may be ready for.
These days, most people, whether they have gone through a divorce or not, have heard of mediation—not to be confused with meditation, which also can be beneficial for its own reasons.
Most divorce courts encourage couples to attempt to settle their issues via mediation before going to trial and letting the judge weigh in on the issues. Many will even mandate that parties getting divorced attend mediation as a matter of course.
Mediation is a process where the parties choose a neutral person, called a mediator, whose job it is to help both sides come to a settlement on all issues present in the divorce. The mediator does not take sides, and is there to educate on how a judge might resolve such issues if the case went to trial, as well as suggest a fair and equitable solution so all parties can finalize their divorce and move on.
Though many will consider mediation at the later stages of the divorce process—after both sides have exchanged discovery and have all the information needed to negotiate a fair settlement—mediation can be useful any time there is a disagreement that cannot be easily resolved, in cases ranging from business disputes to labor disruptions. The key to making mediation work is having both parties be willing to try to resolve the dispute in good faith.
Mediation is typically cheaper—and quicker—than going through the courts and using lawyers. However, some people do have lawyers representing them at a mediation, and it is not uncommon for a good number of mediators to be attorneys by trade.
It's especially crucial that you choose the right mediator—someone who is experienced in addressing the type of dispute you are seeking to resolve, and who will work patiently with both sides to obtain a fair settlement. Both sides should feel comfortable with this person; otherwise, the process will surely fail. A mediator can merely suggest a resolution; it's ultimately up to the parties involved to reach an agreement.
The question of whether mediation is right for your situation depends on the temperaments of those involved in the relationship. Remember, whether separating, divorcing, or just arguing over why the dishes are dirty, mediation is an option to help resolve your differences and move on.