A separation agreement is a legal document used by a married couple who wishes to separate and live apart without getting divorced.
A marriage separation agreement includes a lot of the same details as a divorce agreement such as child custody and spousal support.
What Is a Separation Agreement?
A separation agreement is a written contract between spouses who want to live apart without getting a divorce. The agreement outlines how assets, debts, bills, and other shared responsibilities will be handled while they’re separated.
If you have children, a separation agreement should also outline custody/visitation rights and child support or division of the child(ren)’s expenses.
Each state handles divorce and separation proceedings differently. Some states require a legal separation before a couple can file for divorce. Other states don’t require a separation agreement before divorce and may or may not recognize a legal separation.
State law also determines whether a separation agreement is simply signed between the couple or filed with the state. Check your state government website for more specific information about the divorce and separation process where you live.
Sample Separation Agreement Template
The sample separation agreement template below details an agreement between petitioner, Barbara Lewis and respondent, Juan Johnson. Both parties agree on the division of property and finances after their split.
What’s the difference between a legal separation and a divorce?
A couple that gets a divorce is no longer legally married, while a separated couple is still married in the eyes of the law.
This means a legally separated couple can live their lives completely independently (according to the conditions of their separation agreement), but they can’t remarry, and they’re still entitled to certain benefits.
Some couples wish to undergo a trial separation period before deciding whether to reconcile or get a divorce.
What does it mean to live separate and apart?
Living separate and apart refers to the living arrangement of a separated couple that no longer has marital obligations to one another. Some states require couples to assume this arrangement for a certain period of time before they can get a divorce.
A few examples of what living separate and apart looks like include:
- Attending social events separately
- Dividing financial responsibilities and assets
- Not sleeping together
- Eating meals separately
Keep in mind if the couple is living under the same roof after their separation, spousal support or alimony won’t be tax-deductible.
Can You Write Your Own Separation Agreement?
You can write your separation agreement yourself or have an attorney draft it for you depending on your needs.
Using our separation agreement template as a guide, discuss how you and your spouse will divide both physical assets and responsibilities going forward.
Most couples won’t agree on every aspect of the agreement immediately, so prepare for this process to take some time. If needed, you and your spouse can fill out two separate versions and then come together to discuss and negotiate.
What to Include in Your Separation Agreement
In general, a separation agreement should include the following:
- Names and address(es) of the couple that wants to separate
- Date of marriage
- Confirmation that the couple meets the residency requirements for their state
- Reason for the couple’s separation
- Whether the separation is temporary or permanent
Division of shared responsibilities:
- Child custody and visitation rights (if the couple has children under the age of 18)
- Child support and/or spousal support
- Division of assets like the home, cars, and furniture
- Division of financial obligations like mortgages, loans, bills, and taxes
The separation agreement must contain the notarized signatures of both parties to be considered legally binding.
Even if separation agreements aren’t court-granted in your state, some couples may want to file the separation agreement with their county clerk’s office (where either party lives). This can be useful if the couple plans to eventually file for divorce.
Depending on your family’s needs, some aspects of creating a separation agreement can be challenging, so make sure to seek help from an attorney or accountant if you don’t understand the legal or tax-related consequences of your agreement.