Separation Agreements - Do I Need One? by Cassandra Hearn

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No one ever wants to see their marriage end.  Seeing a relationship to which you have previously devoted love, energy, and resources it is incredibly difficult, but unfortunately, it is a frequent occurrence.  In California, there are three different ways to approach the end your marriage: divorce, legal separation, or annulment.  A divorce ends your marriage while an annulment makes it so your marriage never existed in the eyes of the law.  With a legal separation, however, your marriage is not actually over.  Signing a separation agreement can be an important and useful tool, depending on your circumstances and your goals.

A separation agreement is a document that will be filed with the court along with a request to declare you and your spouse legally separated.  Legal separation means that you are still married to your spouse.  In other words, you cannot get remarried while you are operating under a separation agreement because you are still married.  What a legal separation agreement can achieve, however, is to set out the rights and responsibilities of both parties during the separation period.

Child custody and child support are often high on the priority list for separating parties.  A separation agreement can operate very similarly to a mediated settlement agreement in a divorce in that the divorcing spouses can come to an agreement on how visitation, custody, child support, decision making authority, and other issues relating to the children are to be handled.  When parties are separating and trying to hash out how their new arrangement will work, a separation agreement setting out exactly when the kids will be in which home can help reduce tension and frustration for both the parents and the children.

A separation agreement can also deal with the parties’ property.  In California, marital assets and debts will be equally divided at the time of a divorce.  Absent an agreement to the contrary, the time to calculate the marital estate is as close to the divorce date as possible.  If the parties have been living separately for months, this may seem unfair, as the court will may up dividing assets and debts that were incurred during the separation period.  A separation agreement can provide a date the parties agree will be the valuation date for the marital estate.  This way, both parties can avoid having assets and debts acquired during the separation period included in the division of community property.

We have extensive experience in helping our clients successfully complete mediation at a time that best suits their case. Call us today for an appointment at 619-800-0384 to talk about your case and how mediation can work to your advantage.