A separation agreement is a written contract between two spouses, which is signed by both spouses and notarized. The separation agreement addresses all or some of the issues related to their separation and divorce, such as alimony, property division, child support, and child custody. Such an agreement can settle all issues involved in the separation except the actual divorce, which must be granted by a court.
Many couples opt for a separation agreement because it is a cost-effective manner of settling the issues and the couple retains control over the result. Litigating issues in court is costly and the parties relinquish control over the ultimate outcome to a judge who determines asset division, support amounts, and custody arrangements. With a separation agreement, the couple avoids costly litigation and they decide how their assets will be divided, how much alimony will be provided and for how long, and how child custody will be arranged. Negotiating a separation agreement is a faster and cheaper method of settling the issues involved in separation rather than litigation, and the parties decide the ultimate outcome.
Negotiating a settlement agreement also allows the parties to have an agreement, which is tailored to their specific needs and can comprehensively address their unique issues. A separation agreement may address who will live in the marital home, who gets tangible property (such as cars and furniture); and how certain intangible property is divided, (stocks, bonds, bank accounts, pensions, etc). It can include provisions for the sale or transfer of property, the transfer of debt, and the payment of college expenses for children.
If a party violates or fails to perform his or her obligations under a separation agreement, the other party may seek to enforce the agreement. If the separation agreement is later incorporated into the divorce decree, it becomes part of a court order and can be enforced by the court through contempt. If the agreement is not incorporated, a party may sue for breach of contract or specific performance seeking an order directing the defendant to comply with the separation agreement.