Why Separation Agreements are a Good Idea
Jul 15, 2021
A separation agreement is often the first step married, or cohabitating couples take when their relationship breaks down. Separation agreements are legal documents containing information relating to decisions about co-parenting, child support, and spousal support and the division of property. While there is no legal requirement to have a separation agreement, couples who are married or who lived together should put one in place to help avoid confusion and disputes in the future.
There’s a lot to cover
You may not realize as you grow apart how much your lives are still intertwined. Financial matters, physical assets, investments, property, and of course, children all need decisions to be made about their future.
Going through the separation process is emotionally trying. However, writing a separation agreement provides an opportunity to resolve some of the differences or disagreements you may have either cooperatively or through a mediator or lawyer.
Let a Legal Professional Help
Especially if you and your spouse are splitting amicably, it may seem like a good idea to write your own separation agreement. However, separation agreements are legally binding documents, so a poorly written or incomplete agreement could lead to problems in the future. The same goes for an agreement template pulled from the internet. Regardless of the source, there is the potential for costly errors or omissions in using a generic template. Instead, enlist the help of a lawyer or family mediator. These professionals can help you create a separation agreement that meets your family’s unique needs better than a template can.
What is included in a Separation Agreement?
Your lawyer will ensure that your separation agreement contains everything it should. However, these are a few of the major points your agreement should cover:
Parenting time and decision-making for children
Setting ground rules and schedules for parenting time and how the day-to-day activities of your kids are managed is an enormously important part of any agreement to ensure that the children’s best interests are protected.
Division of property
Any assets of financial or sentimental value accumulated over the course of your relationship should be addressed in your separation agreement. In the process of writing the separation agreement, you’ll make decisions on how to allocate these items to avoid misunderstandings or disputes.
The fate of the matrimonial home
Spouses often disagree on what to do with the home where the family lived during the relationship. Either spouse needs to purchase the other’s interest, or a plan for selling needs to be made within your separation agreement.
Handling of benefits, pensions and RRSPs
You’ll need to discuss with your spouse whether insurance benefits will be maintained, how any pension, RRSPs, and other investments accumulated during the relationship will be divided. Even life insurance policies should be addressed, specifying whether beneficiaries will be changed or remain the same.
Spousal support and child support
The details of money paid by one spouse to the other to help cover the living expenses should be explicitly set out in the separation agreement. It’s important to get this right since your separation agreement is enforceable in court.
Extraordinary expenses for children
Child support covers the basics of expenses for children, however, as every parent knows, there are extra costs for sports, activities, camps, braces and much more. Set out a process in advance for deciding how to handle extra costs to avoid arguments or worse – forcing kids to miss out because their parents could not agree.
Regardless of how thorough your separation agreement may be, disputes will arise at some point. When they do, you need to have a process in place to resolve them quickly and cooperatively.
Your separation agreement should include language about how and when a divorce should be obtained if either party chooses to take that route in the future. A divorce can affect different things including whether or not health and medical benefits are available for a former spouse.
Separation agreements can be extensive and complicated. The best way to ensure it is done right is to work with a divorce lawyer or divorce mediator. They will help you through the process to ensure your agreement is complete, that you or your children are not exposed to any undue risk, and that your separation happens as smoothly as it possibly can.