For most people, the idea of divorce conjures up worries over stress, money, and time. But divorce does not have to be the knock-down, drag-out fight often depicted in the movies. Most issues can be resolved using something known as a separation agreement.
A separation agreement is essentially a contract between you and your spouse for how to address all of the issues arising out of the marriage. Once you are separated, a separation agreement may be used to settle property and debt division, alimony and spousal support, child custody, child support, and more. They can be used to decide how retirement benefits will be split between spouses, and who gets the marital home. Spouses with businesses may wish to use a separation agreement to decide how ownership and control of the company will be divided.
In some states, there are certain claims that can be raised against third parties who were responsible for interfering with or breaking up the marriage. Two of the most common ones are alienation of affection and criminal conversation. Divorcing spouses can agree not to pursue these claims against third parties. Often this agreement is used as leverage or as reassurance to the third party who allegedly did wrong.
There are some limitations to what can be settled by a separation agreement. You usually cannot obtain the actual divorce itself merely by agreement; some form of court action will be required. Also, agreeing to a particular child custody arrangement or child support amount will not deprive a court of its power to alter these if doing so is in the child’s best interests.
Parties often use separation agreements to provide for more benefits than a court is legally allowed to order. For example, in most jurisdictions, child support ends when the child turns 18 or graduates from high school. Parents can agree to provide for a child’s college expenses by way of a separation agreement. One spouse may wish to protect all of his or her retirement by agreeing to more alimony than a court might order.
There are numerous advantages to using a separation agreement rather than going to court. For one, it usually saves money and time. Many attorneys draft separation agreements on a flat fee scale, so you have an exact idea of how much it will cost. Resolving differences amicably also means less time dealing with court and attorneys, so it can expedite the entire process. You may still need to wait until the requisite time has passed before you can divorce, but you can settle other matters during that waiting period.
A separation agreement also gives control of the divorce to the parties. There are few limitations on what spouses can agree to. Rather than have a judge, who is a stranger to both parties, try to dictate what is best for everyone, many divorcing couples would rather do it themselves.
Talk to an experienced family law attorney about your divorce and whether a separation agreement is a good option for you.