A legal separation is different from a separation agreement. In California, there is a legal separation process for married couples (which is virtually identical to the divorce process) which results in a court-sanctioned legal separation. When a legal separation is granted, you are still married but a court-approved resolution has been reached as regards division of assets and debts, spousal support, child support and a parenting plan.
A separation agreement is simply an agreement a couple reaches as regards their separation. It can be a trial separation or a permanent separation. The couple can be married or not. The separation agreement can become part of a court proceeding or not. It can be an informal agreement or it can be formalized into a legal contract. For divorcing couples, it may be an agreement which governs a period of separation until their divorce is finalized.
When a couple has been together for a long period of time, has joint asset and debts, and/or has children together, often there is a lot to be resolved when separating. Often there are major financial and/or parenting implications. It is usually necessary to reach some agreements regarding the separation. Working these out can be difficult, especially when a lot is at stake.
These agreements can be reached around the kitchen table, with the help of a mediator or with the help of attorneys representing each individual. If outside assistance would be helpful, separation mediation is a low-cost option which is usually effective.
As the agreements are reached, it’s normally wise to document them in a separation agreement. Again, you can do this yourself or with the help of a mediator or an attorney. If you want to have the agreements become an enforceable legal contract, an attorney can draft one based on the separation agreement you have reached on your own or through mediation.
Separation Agreement Topics
You can cover as much as or little as you want in a separation agreement. Some of the areas commonly addressed are:
- living arrangements and time sharing with the children;
- co-parenting details;
- how each person’s living expenses will be paid;
- whether child support and/or other monthly support will be paid and, if so, how much, when and for how long;
- who will be responsible for which debts;
- how bank accounts and other assets will be managed during the separation period and/or how they will be divided up;
- how income and property obtained after the separation will be treated;
- when and how the couple will continue to communicate with each other.