A separation agreement is a legally binding contract signed by the spouses, which addresses all of the key financial and child-related issues. This may include agreements as to where each spouse and the children will live, how custody and parenting time will be divided, which debts and obligations of the marriage will be paid during the period of the separation, and what funds will change hands between the parties (in terms of support or contribution toward bill-paying obligations).
When parties indicate that they want a “legal separation,” they are often simply indicating that they want to prepare a separation agreement, in writing, which will be binding upon each of them. It is not necessary to go to court to obtain a “legal separation” and in most states, the separation agreement does not need to be recorded, registered or filed anywhere. However, the separation agreement will constitute a valid contract, if properly drawn, and anybody who violates the agreement will be in breach of contract. In such cases, the breaching party may be hauled into court on a complaint to enforce the separation agreement.
Separation agreements can be as detailed as necessary to address all of the issues between the parties. For example, it may be necessary to address who will drive which car, who will be responsible for the car payments and car insurance. Likewise, a separation agreement may address such issues as health insurance coverage and homeowner’s insurance; who will pay the mortgage bill or certain credit card bills; who will assist the children with their tuition obligations, how will taxes be filed or paid for. Ultimately, the purpose of the separation agreement is to maintain the financial stability of the family, and to provide for each party’s maintenance and upkeep, while they are living separate and apart. While separation agreements are often very successful in keeping the family afloat during the period of separation, they may also serve as a basis for a resolution of the entire divorce case, when and if the parties decide to file for divorce.
If spouses can reach certain agreements on their own in connection with their desire to separate, then it is helpful to jot down those agreements or to capture them in writing on paper or in an exchange of emails. However, before the actual separation takes place, a trained family lawyer should draft a formal separation agreement, which should be reviewed by both parties and signed by each of them. In fact, each party should consult an attorney before signing the separation agreement.
The Law Offices of Mark S. Guralnick has extensive experience in the preparation of separation agreements, covering virtually every kind of issue and circumstance. If you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact us.