A separation agreement is a document which outlines how a couple will share assets, family wealth and child responsibilities when their relationship has broken down.
Separation agreements are appropriate for cohabiting, unmarried couples whose relationship has ended, as well as married and civil partnered couples who wish to separate but aren't ready to start divorce proceedings.
While a separation agreement is a formal document, it is not enforceable or officially recognised in law. However, it can be a useful tool to help partners decide how family finances will be handled following a split and how child care arrangements will work. It can also be a useful starting point for the court if a divorce or civil partnership dissolution is actioned at a later date.
At Goodsells we fully understand how difficult it can be when a relationship breaks down and that your circumstances are unique and pressing. We provide expert legal advice with care and sensitivity, and work hard to protect your interests and secure the outcomes you desire.
Why is a separation agreement a good idea?
If you or your partner are not ready to seek a divorce, a separation agreement document can show that you both accept the relationship has broken down irretrievably and that you intend to live separately. This can be useful later to provide a date for the end of the relationship and neither party can claim desertion.
When a relationship ends and partners agree to live apart, there are certain family and financial responsibilities that will need to be maintained. A separation agreement can state who is responsible for what: for instance, the mortgage, the rent, household bills, as well as who will live in the family home, who will be the primary carer for children, and how child contact will occur with the parent who leaves the family home.
If it is not possible for one party to leave the family home (perhaps for financial reasons), a separation agreement can be used to appoint responsibility for household chores and home maintenance, as well as who can use communal spaces when, and when friends and relatives are allowed access to the home.
A separation agreement can include whatever the partners want it to include, so it could include provision for items such as:
- How any joint savings and investments will be divided
- Who will receive any jointly bought items such as cars, furniture, pets, etc.
- What will happen to any debts, loans and overdrafts
- Details of maintenance agreed: such as child maintenance and/or spousal maintenance
- Who will pay school fees etc.
What a separation agreement cannot do
Even when two parties have agreed the terms of a separation agreement, there is no legal obligation for each party to actually do what has been agreed. So, if your partner says they will pay the mortgage but then they don't, sadly, a court cannot order them to pay on the basis of the separation agreement, although other legal remedies will be available.
If you decide to get a divorce or civil partnership dissolution at a later date, a separation agreement cannot dictate to a divorce court how the divorce financial settlement and any child arrangements will work. The court will always seek to ensure that the financial arrangements are fair for both parties and that the welfare of any children is maintained.
Can a separation agreement be changed?
If you want to change the terms of a separation agreement, both parties have to agree to the altered terms. But, as with all separation agreements, there is no legal obligation to adhere to new arrangements even if both parties agreed.
Do I need a family lawyer to draw up a separation agreement?
No, you don't need to consult a solicitor to draft a separation agreement. However, it is always a good idea to seek professional advice before signing a potentially binding agreement so that you fully understand your legal rights, especially when it comes to finances and children.
A solicitor can help you to seek full financial disclosure and identify if there are any reasons why you should not sign the agreement.
If you and your partner have both received independent legal advice prior to signing the separation agreement, a court is perhaps more likely to agree with the terms if you decide to seek a divorce financial settlement and/or a child arrangements order at a later date.
Contact Goodsells Family Law
We will be happy to arrange an initial appointment and during the meeting we will discuss our fee structure and the likely costs involved. Our rates are highly-competitive and we will always discuss costs at the outset of any work we carry out for you.