What is a Legal Separation Agreement?

Felicia Dye

Legal separation is an arrangement in which a husband and wife live separately although they are married. The legal separation agreement is a document that is usually legally binding that outlines the terms of this type of arrangement. Issues that may be addressed include the amount of spousal or child support that should be paid, how financial responsibilities should be handled, and how property should be divided.

A legal separation agreement often addresses how joint financial responsibilities will be handled.
A legal separation agreement often addresses how joint financial responsibilities will be handled.

A legal separation agreement is a document that is basically designed to make sure that spouses adhere to their obligations while they are apart. A major concern for many separating couples is financial support for the individual with the least resources and the one who will bear the primary responsibility of caring for any children. It is common for the legal separation agreement to address these issues separately and explicitly. The agreement should state how much will be paid, by whom, and the frequency that those payments will be made.

This type of agreement often addresses how joint financial responsibilities will be handled. This may or may not be handled in the same manner as it was when the couple was living together. For example, perhaps household bills were divided equally. Now that one spouse will be residing elsewhere, perhaps his contribution toward certain bills, such as mortgage and home insurance, may be reduced to 25 percent and his contribution towards others, such as electricity and maintenance, may cease.

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The legal separation agreement may also address how property is divided. This includes financial instruments such as cash, credit cards, and investment portfolios. It may include personal property, such as cars and furnishings. When couples own multiple pieces of real estate, the agreement may outline who will possess or reside in which residences. These are common examples of the contents of these documents, but there are numerous other issues that can be addressed in these types of agreements.

Some people believe that a legal separation agreement is an irreversible step toward divorce. This is not true. In many cases, couples who are subject to such agreements are in the process or at least considering divorce. They are usually free, however, to abandon the terms of the separation agreement if they wish to reconcile.

It is usually advisable to have an attorney to draft or at least to assist with the legal separation agreement. Otherwise, there is a risk that if one party fails to meet the outlined obligations or terms, the other may not have the ability to use the law to force him or her to act in accordance with the agreement. This is especially true in instances where the couple is in a jurisdiction where the law does not recognize legal separations.

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