How to Prepare a Legal Separation Document

By Teo Spengler

A legal separation is a divorce in all but name. It can serve as a temporary solution for couples desiring a "trial" divorce, or as a permanent arrangement for couples unable to divorce because of religious convictions or financial affairs, such as the need for one spouse to continue on the other's health insurance. Drafting a legal separation agreement requires that both spouses come to terms regarding the same legal and financial issues resolved in a divorce case, including distribution of assets and debts, child custody and support, and spousal support. In some states, courts review and grant legal separation agreements, while in others, the agreement stands as a contract between the parties.

A legal separation is a divorce in all but name. It can serve as a temporary solution for couples desiring a "trial" divorce, or as a permanent arrangement for couples unable to divorce because of religious convictions or financial affairs, such as the need for one spouse to continue on the other's health insurance. Drafting a legal separation agreement requires that both spouses come to terms regarding the same legal and financial issues resolved in a divorce case, including distribution of assets and debts, child custody and support, and spousal support. In some states, courts review and grant legal separation agreements, while in others, the agreement stands as a contract between the parties.

Preparing Legal Separation Agreement from Court Forms

Step 1

Visit the family law court in the county in which you intend to file for legal separation; normally, this will be the county in which you reside or last resided with your spouse. Ask whether the courts in your state grant legal separations. If so, request the necessary forms, including a legal separation agreement (sometimes termed a "separate maintenance agreement") form or prototype, if available. As an alternative, obtain the forms from a reputable online legal document provider.

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Step 2

Review the separate maintenance or legal separation agreement forms to be certain that you have addressed and agreed upon all requisite issues with your spouse. Until both of you agree or until a court rules on the unresolved issues, you cannot draft a final legal separation agreement.

Step 3

Complete the legal separation agreement form according to the instructions. These legal separation agreement forms vary among states, but all require you to describe your agreed-upon property and debt division, as well as spousal support payments, if any. Couples with children must identify who has legal and physical custody of the child, and they must also describe visitation, and set child support amounts.

Drafting a Legal Separation Agreement

Step 1

Draft a separation agreement, if your state courts do not offer a prototype. Obtain one or more sample separation agreements from an online provider and use them as your guide. Select the prototype that works best for you.

Step 2

Type a similar form, incorporating your information. Generally, begin the document setting out preliminary matters such as identifying yourselves, your place of residence, the date and place of your marriage, and the date of separation. List your children and their dates of birth. Add subsequent sections listing and identifying your real property, other physical assets such as vehicles, financial assets such as stocks and bonds, retirement assets. Include similar sections identifying your debt. Not all states require a listing of assets and debts in a separation agreement; however, the practice protects both spouses in case assets or debts were forgotten or hidden at the time the agreement was negotiated.

Step 3

Set out the terms of your agreement as to the division of assets, debts, and custody. State whether either spouse will continue to live in the house or apartment occupied by the couple, who will take title to each joint asset, and who will pay the mortgage and other monthly bills. Describe your custody agreement, visitation arrangements, and the child and spousal support agreements.

Step 4

Add signature spaces for both spouses at the end of the agreement. Add witness signature spaces, if necessary. Some states require witnesses or a notary public signature; others require both.

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How to Draft Legal Separation Terms

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