What a Separation Agreement Covers

By Beverly Bird

If you and your spouse are drafting a separation agreement in anticipation of divorce or just living apart, it's usually better to say too much than too little. These documents – also called marital settlement agreements or property settlement agreements in some states – can be unique to your personal concerns, so the more detail the better. When you decide to proceed with a divorce, having a signed agreement makes your divorce uncontested. If you've covered everything, there's nothing left for the court to do but approve it and grant your divorce. A judge will usually do so unless he thinks it's unfair to you, your spouse or your children.

If you and your spouse are drafting a separation agreement in anticipation of divorce or just living apart, it's usually better to say too much than too little. These documents – also called marital settlement agreements or property settlement agreements in some states – can be unique to your personal concerns, so the more detail the better. When you decide to proceed with a divorce, having a signed agreement makes your divorce uncontested. If you've covered everything, there's nothing left for the court to do but approve it and grant your divorce. A judge will usually do so unless he thinks it's unfair to you, your spouse or your children.

Children

If you have children, a separation agreement covers both custody and support issues. Custody involves more than which parent your children will live with and on what days. You can include provisions for holidays, special occasions and vacations. These issues fall under the umbrella of physical custody. If your children live with one parent most days, the other has visitation, so you can complete a schedule detailing this. Legal custody involves decision-making, and you can state whether you and your spouse will share this responsibility or if only one of you will deal with important issues. Everyday decisions are typically the responsibility of whichever parent the children are living with at that time. State laws for calculating child support can vary, so access a worksheet from your local courthouse or your state's website and complete it to figure out how much one of you should pay to the other. If you choose a figure at random and it doesn't conform to your state's child support guidelines, a judge might not approve your agreement if you later decide to divorce. You can also specify how child support will be paid, either directly or through your state's child support services office.

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Spousal Support

Most states don't have specific calculations for spousal support or alimony. You can decide on a figure that suits you, or you can even decide that no spousal support will be paid. If you do decide on support, you may include when and if it ends and whether it can be modified. If you're going to waive alimony, it's usually a good idea to say so specifically.

Assets

There are two types of property in a divorce: separate and marital. Separate property is that which you brought into the marriage or acquired by way of gift or inheritance. Marital property is anything acquired during your marriage, including real estate, vehicles, bank accounts, retirement plans, insurance policies, investment accounts and even household furnishings. When you draft a separation agreement, you can agree on who is going to keep what. If you're not planning to divorce immediately, the marital home might be an issue. If one of you will continue to live there, provisions can be made for who is going to pay for maintenance, the mortgage and other associated expenses, and when or if you will eventually sell the home.

Debts

Most spouses acquire at least some debt, and your separation agreement can also address who's going to pay it off after you part ways. Typically, if one of you is keeping an asset that serves as security for a loan, such as a car, that spouse also assumes responsibility for the associated debt. When you're drafting your own separation agreement, however, you can make whatever provisions suit you. You can obligate one spouse to refinance a secured loan from both names into one name or have one spouse take on contractual liability for paying off a joint loan on her own. Don't forget unsecured debts, such as credit cards, medical bills and student loans.

Insurance Coverage

Depending on your state and insurance provider, it's sometimes possible for separated spouses to remain on the same health insurance policy until they actually divorce. If this is a consideration for you, you can include terms for insurance in your separation agreement, but check with a local lawyer or your insurance company first to make sure this is permitted where you live. If you have children, the court will likely expect you and your spouse to continue medical coverage for them, so you can include provisions for this in your agreement as well. If you don't cover this matter, a judge may add court-ordered terms to your agreement at the time you divorce.

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What Does a Divorce Settlement Include?

References

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How to Prepare a Legal Separation Agreement

A legal separation agreement is a formal document that outlines the terms of a couple's separation. This is usually a temporary document, remaining in effect until a couple divorces or reconciles. In many cases, spouses work together to formulate the agreement, so such documents require couples to work together to reach mutually agreeable decisions. The exact requirements for the contents of a legal separation agreement vary by state, but generally, they address issues such as child custody, division of finances and living arrangements.

Who Qualifies for Joint Custody of a Child?

When they realize divorce is imminent, many parents hope to have joint custody of the children. The term "joint custody" is more complicated than it seems on the surface, however. It can mean different things in different states, but more often than not, it refers to legal custody, which has no bearing on how much time your child spends with you. By any name, courts typically want some assurances before they order it that it’s going to work out. You'll probably have to ask for it in your divorce filings because judges are sometimes reluctant to order joint custody if parents have not expressed a desire for it, or if parent is adamantly opposed to it.

What Is Negotiated in Divorce Settlements in Missouri?

The advantage of a marital settlement agreement is that it allows you to tailor your divorce to the needs and concerns of your family. Otherwise, a judge -- who does not know the dynamics of your family -- will make a decision for you at trial, based on state law. In Missouri, judges prefer that divorcing couples settle issues on their own terms. However, your settlement -- called a Marital Settlement and Separation Agreement in Missouri -- must comprehensively address every issue. Otherwise, you’ll still end up in trial.

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