Why Do People Need Legal Separation Papers?

By Anna Assad

A married couple is considered separated as soon as they decide to leave the marriage relationship and live independently, no longer treating each other as husband and wife. If they want, they can draft a separation agreement, which is a legally binding contract that addresses the terms of the split. While they don't need legal separation papers, having a written agreement may offer them some protection until they formally divorce.

Legal Separation Agreement

The agreement covers various legal aspects of the separation, including who will pay what bills, property division, alimony, child support, child custody and visitation arrangements. This gives a spouse a legal leg to stand on if the other spouse doesn't follow the terms. For example, John and Mary are married and have a joint credit card account. They separate, and on their agreement, John agrees to pay the credit bill. John doesn't pay, the credit company goes after Mary for the debt and she pays it. The agreement may allow Mary to sue John for the debt she paid.

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Joint Legal Custody Agreement

During a divorce, couples with minor children must resolve child custody issues, including legal custody and physical custody of each child. Parents who agree to share joint legal custody of a child often outline their shared responsibilities in a joint legal custody agreement. Although a joint legal custody agreement refers specifically to legal custody, it is possible to address both legal and physical custody in a single document. If you want to address both issues, you can still title the agreement "joint legal custody agreement" or change it to a “joint child custody agreement.”

An Example of a Simple Divorce Separation Agreement

A simple divorce separation agreement can make the difference between a smooth ride and a tortuous one while waiting for a divorce. A properly drafted agreement identifies each spouse's responsibilities concerning the ongoing business of the marriage and protects the marital assets while the couple wades through the divorce process. Without it, expectations are often murky at best. However, with a little cooperation from both parties, a divorcing couple can draft a simple separation agreement that protects both their interests and maybe even preserves a little of the good will between them.

Getting a Legal Separation in Arkansas

Arkansas is a little different from most states when it comes to marriage and divorce. There are two types of marriage in Arkansas: "regular" marriages and covenant marriages. To end a covenant marriage, a couple must undergo counseling mandated by the marriage agreement before they are allowed to divorce. However, legal separations are treated similarly in both types of divorce. In other respects, Arkansas has adopted contemporary ways to dissolve a marriage, including no-fault divorce and legal separations that allow couples a cooling-off period before formally dissolving their marriage.

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