Many couples that are looking to split up will consider becoming legally separated. Separation is typically required for a period of time before a divorce can be finalized. That typically means that each spouse must live separately from the other without still acting like they are married in some way. The couple cannot sleep together, for example, and claim they are separated. Just moving out is typically all that is required to show you are separated. In some cases, though, it makes sense to have a formal separation agreement, sometimes called separation papers. In many states, a court may approve the agreement to grant the couple the status of “legal separation.” Some couples decide not to divorce and live legally separated lives for an indefinite period of time, often for financial reasons like keeping access to health care benefits. Here are some typical things you should see in a separation agreement.
The separation papers will often lay out basic information about the relationship. That can include when the couple was married, where they have joint assets. The couple should state that they are planning to live separate and apart. If attorneys are involved, it is helpful to name those attorneys and how they plan to work out any disputes that arise.
Sharing of assets
While a couple is separated, they are still legally married and therefore each is usually entitled to an equal share of the couple’s assets. At the same time, each spouse may be eager to begin having a separate life. That means each spouse may want to live off their own paycheck, but the high earner in the relationship still has an obligation to the other spouse. Neither spouse should be allowed to drain their shared accounts without input from the other, but bills need to be paid so the couple has to agree who is taking responsibility for each bill. Perhaps most importantly, the agreement should explain who is going to live in the home they once shared and how the spouse that is moving out will be compensated for the cost of a new place.
Child custody and support
Perhaps one of the most important issues to address in separation papers is child custody. If children are involved, it makes the whole divorce process more complicated. Often, a judge will have to rule on the best custody arrangement for the children. This all needs to be figured out on a temporary basis in the separation papers. The papers should explain where the children will reside and if they are splitting time between locations an exact schedule is important. The couple should address their process for visitation and handing off the child in split custody situations. For example, many parents try to avoid speaking to each other when they are dropping off the child for visitation with the other parent. Of course, the costs of child support must be figured out as well. Typically, this means a child support allowance from the couple’s joint funds to whoever has primary custody of the child. Issues like what church or school the child will attend can be addressed as well.