A separation agreement is an agreement entered into by a married couple regarding living apart for a period of time, either temporary or permanent. These agreements may include terms related to:
- Child support; and
- Management of financial matters.
If the spouses decide to live together again, their agreement may be canceled. Separation agreements are meant to have couples sort out their separation issues with the help of a mediator if necessary.
Separation agreements outline the rights and responsibilities of the spouses to one another and create a binding contract before the court enters a judgment of divorce. These agreements also prove that both of the spouses agreed to the separation.
How can Parents Come to an Agreement Once They Separate?
Creating separation agreements in the midst of dealing with a difficult time involving children can be a challenging process. The children may be negatively affected if the parents include them in the high stress separation process.
Because of this, it is important for the parents to agree on certain terms early on to ease tension between the parties and to settle the living arrangements for the children following the separation. This will allow for a workable plan to be put into place which can ease the transition for the children.
What Decisions Should be Made Once the Parents Separate?
Generally, once a separation occurs between the parents, there are two main categories which must be decided immediately regarding children, their major life decisions and their daily activities. Some of the decisions in these categories may include:
- Education: Where the child will seek primary and secondary education;
- Health care: How the parents will ensure their child is able to stay physically and mentally fit;
- Food: Permissible food and non-permissible food;
- Religious beliefs: What religious practices the child will follow;
- Holidays: Will the child celebrate any particular holidays;
- Travel: Who is responsible for traveling arrangements
- Language: What languages will the children speak or understand; and
- Culture: Whether the children will follow any cultural practices.
It can be difficult to make major life decisions regarding a child but it is important to develop a plan early on and create structure for the child to easily abide by. The daily decisions are considered routine decisions related to daily aspects of the child’s life.
The goal of creating an agreement governing the parenting decisions for the child is to have consistency in both of the homes. It is important to note that one parent may be more heavily involved in more of the financial matters because they are the higher earning parent.
In addition, one of the parents may be more responsible for the day to day activities because the child is residing with that parent. The living arrangements of the child or children will have a significant impact on which parent makes the decisions and how they are made.
It can be helpful to research state laws regarding child support and child custody when drafting a separation agreement involving children.
Who is Responsible for Making Decisions After the Separation?
Both parents will be able to choose how they want to proceed with the separation agreement and how to incorporate it into the decision making process. For example, the parents may agree to make joint decisions, which means there will be a fair involvement of both of the parents in discussing and deciding matters related to the child.
It may also be possible to agree to make sole decisions regarding different aspects of the child’s life. For example, one parent may make decisions regarding school and the other may divide on health insurance.
These decisions may reflect the comfort level and cultural or religious preferences of each parent. Creating uniformity and stability for the child or children should be a priority during this process.
What Will the Living Arrangements be for the Child after the Separation?
One of the most important decisions parents will make following a separation is where the child will reside. This decision can be simple in some cases where they remain in the house where they were living previously.
This, however, is not always the case. Depending on the state, that living arrangement may not be considered in the best interest of the child.
Typically, the parents will have joint custody and the child will reside with one parent and the other will have visitation rights. In some cases, however, the child may reside in both homes for a specified agreed-upon time period and rotate between them on a schedule.
There has recently been a concept of the bird’s nest, or family home. This means that the child will live in the family home full-time and each parent will commute to and from the residence.
When one of the parents resides with the child, the other resides in a separate place. This will shift the responsibility to the parents to adapt to the major changes which result from the separation instead of the child.
This concept, however, will not work for all families. For example, this arrangement may be expensive because three homes instead of two will be required.
It may also cause unnecessary tension because the parties are required to do more than just co-parent, for example household tasks include buying groceries and cleaning. Another option would be to consult with the child and find out which home they would prefer to live in.
Usually, a court will consider the child’s living preferences if they are over the age of 12. It is well understood that the best living arrangements are those that prioritize the child’s needs.
How Can You Discuss Changes of Circumstances after Your Separation Agreement is Made?
It is important to remember that after a separation agreement is drafted, the circumstances of the parties may change drastically. To request a modification of the agreement, a party must show a material change of circumstance.
The parties may include clauses in the separation agreement which address changes to specific situations that may avoid future conflicts. For example, the parties may agree to increase or decrease payments by a certain percentage of a party’s income changes.
Situations which may impact an agreement include:
- Loss of employment;
- A change in employment;
- A significant salary decrease;
- Children’s extracurricular activities have changed and more support is required to pay for these activities;
- The child relocated to a different residence;
- The child started attending a university or other colleges; and
- Other provisions or terms may be included to show that an event occurred that drastically affected the previous situation and requires a modification.
Should I Hire a Family Law Attorney?
If you are able to effectively communicate with your spouse, it is possible for you to negotiate a parenting plan on your own. If you need assistance, you can hire a mediator or an attorney.
Whether or not you are having issues communicating, a family lawyer can provide advice as well as bring up possible issues that may arise so they can be tackled before they happen. Your lawyer can help draft the agreement while keeping in mind the court’s lens of the child’s best interest.
It is common for parents to become entangled in their own marital issues and fail to notice the impact their decisions have on their children. Hiring a lawyer can help the parents create a more stable and consistent structure for their child.