Matrimonial and Family Law Blog

Monday, August 21, 2017

My Spouse Wants Me To Sign a Separation Agreement - I’m Not Even Sure What That Is

Things have been rocky in your relationship with your spouse. Although there were good times in the past, now there are arguments and unhappiness. One day, your spouse hands you a bunch of papers with the words “Separation Agreement” at the top of the first page. You find yourself thinking: “My spouse wants me to sign a separation agreement - I’m not even sure what that is.”

Quick answer: A separation agreement is a document that contains the terms two people have agreed to when they are amicably getting a divorce or legal separation.

Be careful before signing a separation agreement, because it is a legally binding contract. Although there are cookie cutter forms available, it is risky to use these. The laws are different in every state, and, like any marital agreement, you want to make sure your separation agreement will be enforceable in New York.

What A Separation Agreement Contains

In a separation agreement, you and your spouse agree to live apart for the rest of your lives. You itemize who will get which items of property, including bank accounts, retirement accounts, credit cards, cars, furniture, personal items, real estate, and any other things that belong to either of you. You also divide up the debt. If either of you will be paying spousal support to the other, the details will be laid out in the separation agreement. The document will cover child support, taxes, and all other financial arrangements.

Once you both sign the separation agreement, you should file it with the clerk of the county where either you or your spouse lives. For confidentiality, you can file a memorandum of the agreement instead. After one year has passed since the date of the agreement, either one of you can file for a “no fault” divorce.

The Advantages Of Using A Separation Agreement

A separation agreement lets you and your spouse decide your financial future, rather than leaving it up to a judge who does not know you or your family situation. Although you are allowed to reach your own agreements, the terms have to be reasonable. A judge will have to agree that the terms of the settlement agreement are fair to both spouses and the children before it can be part of your divorce decree.

Using a separation agreement lets you get a “no fault” divorce. To avoid the unpleasantness and expense of proving to a court that one person was to blame for the divorce, many people opt for a “no fault” divorce, a route that does not require anyone to show fault. You can get a divorce in New York without proving any grounds if:

  • You and your spouse live apart for one year under the terms of a separation agreement,
  • You and your spouse live apart for one year under a decree of separation, or
  • Either you or your spouse swear that the marriage has been irretrievably broken for at least six months.

What Happens If You Do Not Choose A “No Fault” Divorce

If you choose the path of an “at fault” divorce, you must prove fault (grounds). The primary grounds for divorce in New York are:

  • Adultery
  • Abandonment for a year or longer
  • Imprisonment for three years or longer
  • Cruel and inhumane treatment

Before you sign a legal document, you should have a lawyer read it and explain the terms to you. The agreement can have consequences you do not realize. Schedule a consult with one of our New York divorce lawyers to protect yourself and your future.

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