Legal separation is a marital status that falls somewhere in between marriage and divorce. It serves the needs of couples who wish to separate but elect not to divorce for moral or other reasons. Legally separated spouses formally divide their assets and debts, then live apart and maintain separate finances. In some states, a court adjudicates and grants a legal separation; in other states, a legal separation agreement is enforced as a contract negotiated between the spouses.
List the real and personal property belonging to you and your spouse. Include bank accounts, stocks and bonds, and retirement accounts. Make a separate list of your debts and expenses. Show the lists to your spouse, asking for input, until you are both confident that your lists are complete. Describe your sources of income in writing. Using this information, negotiate an equitable division of property and debt. Negotiate child custody, visitation and support issues. If you are not able to come to an agreement on these matters, consult an attorney to evaluate your options.
Obtain prototype separation agreements from your state court system or from an established, online legal-document provider. Use the prototypes as models for drafting your own legal separation agreement.
Write an appropriate heading for your agreement, such as "Legal Separation Agreement." Draft a first paragraph providing preliminary information about you and your spouse as parties to the agreement. Include your names, current addresses, date and place of marriage, and date of separation. Draft subsequent sections describing your income, assets and liabilities; use the lists you and your spouse have drawn up to be sure these sections are complete.
Describe the property division you've agreed upon. Clearly identify who takes title to each asset and who assumes each debt. Be as specific as possible in the terms of the agreement to avoid misunderstandings in the future.
Add a section about your minor children, if any. Identify the children by name and date of birth. Outline your legal and physical custody arrangement for each child, the visitation rights for the noncustodial spouse and the amount of child support to be paid.
Describe your agreement about insurance coverage. State who is to provide each family member's coverage, who will pay for the coverage, and who will pay health care expenses not covered by insurance such as dental, optical, medication and mental-health care costs. State whether either party must maintain life insurance for the other, and if so, the amount of the policy.
Include a section about spousal support. Either state that no spousal support will be paid by either spouse, or describe the amount of spousal support to be paid and identify the spouse to pay it. State the length of time that the spousal support continues.
Draft a section affirming that each spouse has made "full disclosure" to the other about income, assets and liabilities. If your state court system provides a prototype separation agreement that includes a paragraph on disclosure, incorporate it in your agreement. This protects both spouses from the risks of nondisclosure.
Put signature spaces for you and your spouse at the end of the agreement. Include a space to write the date of each signature. Leave space for witness signatures, if desired or required in your state, and a notary signature and seal.