A separation agreement is a contract between spouses determining how they wish to divide marital property, determine custody of children, child support, and alimony. It also determines each party’s rights and obligations to live separate lives from the other spouse. In other words, neither party would create a fault ground for divorce if the separation agreement stipulated that they would live separate and apart as if they were not married. Separation agreements differ from legal separations because they do not require action by the court to be valid.

The separation agreement is used between parties to an amicable divorce that resolves the issues remaining between them. A well-written separation agreement will set penalties for the violation of the agreement as well as make some provision as to how to change the agreement if circumstances change.

The terms of a separation agreement can be as varied and creative. Separation agreements can give more rights than those in state statutes. For instance most statutes only require that a parent provide support until the child reaches age 18 or graduates from high school. A separation agreement can stipulate that child support continue for longer periods if the child has a mental or physical disability. Also the separation agreement can stipulate that the non-custodial parent must pay a portion of college expenses until the child reaches a certain age.

Separation agreements do not have the force of a court order unless the parties request that it become part of the divorce decree. In some circumstances, the separation agreement is just an interim agreement until the divorce becomes final. The separation agreement can also be used between gay couples whose relationship may or not be recognized by law and by heterosexual couples who may have been together for a long time and comingled their assets. There have even been separation agreements that stipulate custody and visitation of the family pets.


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