A separation agreement is a written legal document that memorializes the marital and divorce agreements of a married couple prior to divorce. Separation agreements must be signed and notarized to become effective. A separation agreement must be entered into voluntarily with complete understanding and full disclosures on the part of both parties to be enforceable.
A contested divorce, or a divorce without an agreement, can cost thousands of dollars in attorney fees, court costs and filing fees. By contrast, an uncontested divorce where both parties have resolved their differences by agreement is much less expensive and time consuming. A separation agreement can reduce the cost of a divorce by resolving important martial dissolution issues such as alimony, child custody and visitation, child support and property distribution.
Many people confuse separation agreements with "legal separation". In general, a separation agreement is not a legal separation. A "legal separation" is a term given to the status of the married couple and a "separation agreement" is simply an enforceable contract between husband and wife regarding their agreements about the dissolution of their marriage. Most jurisdictions require a physical separation of the parties to effect a legal separation; however, some states permit married couples to continue to live together during the legal separation period (sometimes called cohabitation).
Some states require nothing more than a physical separation of the parties to begin a legal separation. Other states require the filing of certain documents with court to effectuate a legal separation. Although a separation agreement can be considered to be a legal separation in some instances, the two terms are usually not interchangeable.
There are several advantages to separation agreements. Most states reward couples who have entered into a separation agreement by allowing the couple to be divorced quicker than those couples without separation agreements. A separation agreement almost universally allows a couple to pursue the divorce on an uncontested basis which can be thousands of dollars cheaper than an ugly contested divorce.
Check with a divorce attorney in your state to discuss how separation agreements can make your divorce easier or visit www.directlex.com to view sample separation agreements for download.