When a couple wants to part ways but is not yet ready or qualified to obtain an absolute divorce, they have the option of devising a separation agreement to provide the terms of the separation. This is called a limited divorce in Maryland. In separation agreements—which must be voluntary on both partner’s parts—couples can spell out exactly how they will handle matters during their separation, from how to manage visitation with the kids to who will stay in the marital home.
Those contemplating a separation should see a separation agreement lawyer for help negotiating terms and drafting a formal legal separation agreement. For legal help in Maryland, call our divorce attorneys at Hecht & Associates for an initial consult: 301-587-2099.
What is the purpose of a separation agreement?
Separation agreements are not divorce decrees; they do not terminate marriage nor do they allow the parties to remarry. Rather, separation agreements/limited divorces serve two purposes:
First, they formally document the date in which a couple became legally separated. This is important because in order to file for an absolute divorce in Maryland, you must have lived separate and apart from your spouse for a full 12 consecutive months. Your separation agreement will note this date with the court, so you will have a form of proof of separation.
The second purpose is to settle the matters of separation—at least temporarily. When a couple separates, there are a lot of important factors to consider, such as support payments, who will pay which bills, and child custody. A separation agreement serves as a legal document that provides for all of these factors.
Having a separation agreement gives couples some time to either reconcile or to come to terms on the permanent terms of divorce. The courts encourage couples to work with their attorneys and reach an agreement on their own without court intervention. Legal counsel and mediation can help.
After they have reached agreeable terms, the courts can review the document for approval. Once the court has approved it, all the terms within this agreement become court-enforceable. Non-compliance can mean contempt of court. If the couple cannot reach terms on their own, they can petition the court for assistance. At the hearing, the judge will hear arguments from both sides, review all the facts of the case, and determine the terms it deems fair and reasonable.
What does a separation agreement include?
A separation agreement can include any number of matters. Couples can include any terms they wish, but the court has the authority to modify any aspects of the order that pertain to child custody if it sees fit. The court can also amend most alimony terms. Most often, a separation agreement will include temporary provisions for things such as:
- Child support
- Spousal support
- Child custody and visitation
- Bank accounts
- Debts and payments
- Business interest
- Homes, cars, and other substantial property
- Health, life, and disability insurance
Separation agreements may include temporary or long-term provisions. Temporary agreements are useful for deciding immediate matters that cannot wait, i.e., custody and support. When the agreement specifies that the terms are temporary, a judge will alter or amend it during the final proceedings. Long-term separation agreements, referred to as marital settlement agreements, provide terms that the couple will keep after the divorce. Couples usually settle these types of documents at the time the absolute divorce becomes final.
Do I need an attorney for a separation agreement?
Courts draft separation agreements using a specific format and legal terminology. They should be detailed and specific so that there is no confusion or arguments about matters later on. While you are legally entitled to create and submit separation agreements pro se (i.e., on your own), it can be quite difficult for most people without a legal background to properly create these types of legally binding agreements.The separation agreement lawyers at Hecht & Associates can help.
In addition, there are other forms to file and procedures to follow in order to validate your agreement and your limited divorce. If you make errors or omissions, or include ambiguous wording, it can cause massive headaches and you will likely find yourself back in court. There are numerous financial matters to consider, as well. Do you know exactly how much child support is fair? Is alimony appropriate, and if so, how much and for how long?
Having an attorney assist you with negotiations, drafting documents, and the divorce process will give you peace of mind that you are handling things correctly and that the terms are in your best interest. If your spouse’s attorney has submitted a draft of a separation agreement, you will want your attorney to carefully review it to ensure it is fair and there are no loopholes. Should negotiations turn sour and the divorce become contentious, your attorney can explain the next steps are and help you seek a resolution.
For a legal consultation with a lawyer in Maryland that handles separation agreements and all other divorce-related matters, call Hecht & Associates. Contact us today at 301-587-2099 for a consultation with a separation agreement attorney.