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What is a separation agreement?

Not all couples filing for separation end up getting divorced. Sometimes, when a couple opts for separation, it's because they're not sure they really want to go through with a divorce, but need time apart and their own spaces in order to figure things out. When couples opt for this route, some of them choose to create a separation agreement, and I think that's an excellent idea.

A separation agreement can do several different things to help a couple deciding whether or not to get divorced. It can function the same way a traditional pre-nuptial or post-nuptial agreement can with regard to a couple's finances. In those agreements, whether signed before or after the couple is married, the couple can state what they want done with assets and debts accumulated prior to their marriage. It can be helpful in case the couple divorces, as it settles issues that could otherwise be contested if the couple goes through a divorce.


A separation agreement does more than deal with just finances, though. It establishes ground rules for how a couple conducts itself during the separation. For a couple trying to repair their marriage, it can be helpful to commit to those rules in a document, even if they seem to be obvious, common sense guidelines.


The agreement might address fidelity while the couple is trying to reconcile, living arrangements, visitation schedules with children, and not closing or withdrawing from accounts or using lines of credit during the separation.


If you and your spouse are able to come to ground rules on your own, that's good--and that can be an encouraging sign for your reconciliation. But having a separation agreement is better than just a set of agreed-on ground rules. A family lawyer overseeing the separation agreement can advise you on what can and can't be included in one, as well as what recourse the both of you have if one or both of you violate the agreement.

If the separation does end in divorce, the separation agreement can--depending on its scope--eliminate some of the areas of conflict that might otherwise exist. But at the very least, it sets the tone for a potentially more productive and less contentious divorce process than you'd otherwise have.

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