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Do I need a Separation Agreement?

I spoke to our legal expert, Nicola Ingram from The Family Advisory Bureau about Separation Agreements.

The trouble with divorce is that it is so final. Once we’ve signed on the dotted line, split assets and worked out how to go our separate ways, it’s unlikely that any of us will have the time, energy or clarity to work out whether we might have made a mistake. But the separation process isn’t always so cut and dry. Time and space give us all the opportunity to work out the best course of action. This is why a separation agreement is sometimes the best first step to take.  

Many of us make decisions in the heat of the moment when we are angry, hurt or past our breaking point. But even the best marriages take work and Nicola says that at the Family Advisory Bureau they often recommend taking some time apart without making any final decisions in order to work out what couples both really want.  

“During such a difficult time, it is important to have a strong support network. This will usually consist of family and friends, but you should also have professional services to offer informed guidance and help you to choose the right route for you.  

At the Family Advisory Bureau, they support clients as they work through a huge range of issues. This might include infidelity on one or both sides, or a partner struggling with addiction or mental health issues. At other times, resentment has built up in the marriage over childcare issues where, for example, one partner is a stay at home parent and the other goes out to work.  

A frequent issue that couples struggle with is feeling lonely in their marriage and wondering if they have fallen out of love. Sometimes, this may be the case and divorce is the answer. But for some couples, all they really need is some quality time together away from the kids and the pressures of work. Taking time to make the right decision will help us work out the best route.  

You both deserve time to consider whether divorce, separation or mediation is right for you.  

While some clients have tried going to relationship counselling, others have chosen the mediation route to work through their issues. Many find the professional context and presence of an impartial adviser to be extremely valuable”

Creating a Formal Separation

There is one major issue with informal separation; nothing is set in stone. Even if you have total trust in your partner and their good intentions, nothing is ever certain. This is why Nicola would always recommend drafting a Separation Agreement to formalise key issues.  

Both married and unmarried couples can use separation agreements, and so can civil partners. They are ideal for any couple that is not quite certain whether divorce or a final separation is the right move.  

This will secure your financial position and give both parties peace of mind and formal protection. It will free up time and headspace for you to focus on the day-to-day. Only then can you work out what you truly want for both yourself and as a couple.  

Nicola says “We can assist you in drafting a Separation Agreement that will typically include key financial issues such as who will pay the mortgage/rent and household bills, as well as what happens with savings, investments, debts and loans, as well as any jointly owned assets such as a car.  

Childcare arrangements are understandably another major concern for many couples who have chosen to separate. This can be a great bone of contention between even the most cordial couples which is another reason why a separation agreement is often essential.  

This will formally lay out who the children will live with and how much access the other parent will have. It will also cover which partner will stay in the family home. You might wish to include child maintenance in the agreement as well. This may cover school fees, extracurricular activities and day-to-day expenses.  

One of the best parts about Separation Agreements is the level of flexibility that they offer. Each couple can decide what to include and finalise the drafting of each point with a legal professional.

The final signed agreement will be set in stone (unless both parties agree to certain changes). However, while it is not technically binding in its own right, the separation agreement is still a formal contract. This means it can be challenged in a court but only if it has been drawn up by a legal professional. This marks the difference between a recognised formal document and just a piece of paper.

Should the couple later choose to divorce, then the agreement can be converted into a consent order making the agreement legally binding. This makes it all the more essential to get it right first time and ensure all negotiations were made fairly.  

Another key benefit of a separation agreement is that it can be completed fairly quickly. In contrast, divorce can take months or even years to finalise often with spiralling costs and intensified emotions. It is a highly effective way to divide both assets and responsibilities without closing the door on a reconciliation. It also avoids the need to go to court”.

Separation Agreements for Unmarried Couples  

The number of long-term cohabiting couples is increasing all the time with children and jointly-held assets such as property becoming more and more common. Without a formal marriage structure, it can be even more complex for couples to work out how assets and responsibilities should be split.  

Even with the most amicable separations, it’s always important to try and protect yourself against adverse circumstances. A separation agreement will formalise an agreement that everyone finds fair. It will also avoid any miscommunication or conflict further down the line when things may not be so peaceful.  

For further information on any aspect of formal separation, please do contact Nicola or a member of her team on 01903 373001 or via www.familyadvisorybureau.co.uk  

The Family Advisory Bureau are a team of experienced, specialist, family law advisors. They provide practical and emotional support during the breakdown of a relationship, helping to resolve financial issues, child arrangements and other practical matters.  

The Family Advisory Bureau is not a regulated law practice.  

Nicola has a forum area on the website. Look out for her legal clinics which will be advertised via twitter and the facebook page.

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