What is a marriage separation agreement?

Law

A marriage separation agreement is a formally drawn up, legally binding document that can act as a temporary measure to establish rights and responsibilities before a divorce. Couples can also choose to opt for a legal separation agreement instead of a divorce. In order for a separation agreement to become legally binding, it must be drafted by a family law solicitor. 

A number of things can be dealt with in a marriage separation agreement, including shared housing, belongings, child arrangements and finances. If you opt for a separation agreement, either instead of or before a divorce, you and your spouse will agree to live separately.

Financial settlements

Realistically the main purpose of a marriage separation agreement is to establish and organise what will happen with your shared finances now that you are no longer a couple. Because of this, it is usually customary for a financial settlement to be written into a marriage separation agreement. This settlement will need to be presented to the Court, which will need to approve it.

If you and your spouse’s individual financial situations are very different, the Court may state that one of you pay maintenance to the other. This is usually the case when couples have children together, and they would suffer if one parent was significantly worse off financially than the other. Financial settlement agreements can also help to determine the payment of mortgages, rent and any school fees or other payments related to your children.

What is in a marriage separation agreement?

A marriage separation agreement has two main functions. These are to determine the living situation of both people and to outline the rights and obligations when it comes to the couple’s shared finances.

Thus, if the couple owns or rents a property together, who will remain living there and who will leave should be established in the agreement. If the home is owned together, it may be best that it is sold, or that one party buys the other’s half. Obviously, every couple is different, so what happens with your home when you separate will depend entirely on you and your spouse and what you agree is best.

In order for a marriage separation agreement to function well and benefit both parties in the best way, both you and your spouse must fully disclose your individual financial circumstances. If full disclosure is not given, the agreement may not be upheld if there are any disputes between you and your ex later down the line.

Advantages of a marriage separation agreement

There are advantages of opting for a marriage separation agreement before or instead of a divorce. These include:

  • A marriage separation agreement is a legally binding document, so bring with them a certain degree of protection against your ex if they were to try to back out of any financial responsibilities, they agreed to
  • If you are planning to divorce later down the line, a financial settlement as part of a marriage separation agreement can provide a good basis for the final financial consent order that is part of a divorce
  • An agreement gives both parties more certainty financially, rather than just waiting around to start divorce proceedings
  • A legal separation can often be cheaper than divorcing

Although you do not have to be legally separated before having a divorce, it can bridge the gap between the breakup and divorce finalisation, providing certainty when it comes to finances and living situations.

Divorce solicitors often offer marriage separation services in addition to divorce services. Whether you are amicable with your ex or not, you should always consult a specialist family lawyer to get impartial and educated advice about your situation and what your best options are.

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