When a couple is in agreement about getting divorced, I often hear one spouse saying, “I don’t want to get legally separated, I just want to get a divorce. Why can’t we just skip the separation agreement and go immediately to divorce. We don’t need that middle step.”
Unfortunately, these couples don’t fully understand what the difference is between being legally separated and divorced. Living with a Separation Agreement and not filing for divorce may allow the spouse to be covered by most health insurance plans. Once you are divorced, you have to get your own health insurance.
Even though the couple may be anxious to get divorced, it’s important to know which documents the courts would require and what decisions need to be made. In your Settlement Agreement everything has to be decided and all matters settled. You cannot leave a decision for a later date. (Just to be clear, your Settlement Agreement can also be called a Stipulation of Settlement, a Separation Agreement or a Divorce Agreement. These are all names for the same document.)
Think about it as an Agreement that covers three main areas:
Spousal Support (if there is to be any)
The Agreement will spell out your decisions about child support, visitation, access, time sharing, a parenting plan, discretionary expenses, etc.
Equitable distribution of assets and debts during the marriage. How are you going to divide your assets, how are you going to assign responsibility for repaying your debts?
Is there going to be spousal support paid by one of you to the other? How do you determine that? How do judges determine that? Where would you look to get information to help you determine whether or not the factors are present that make spousal support appropriate? I will help the couple to understand what factors are used to make that determination. How much spousal support? How long should it be paid?
Once you get the Settlement Agreement and it is signed and properly executed, you can submit it to the court, along with an action for divorce. The judge will then consider granting you a divorce. It is not only a necessary step, but is required. If you do not submit a Settlement Agreement, you will not be granted a divorce.
So why can’t we just get divorced? Why do we need a Separation or Settlement Agreement first? Because you have to!!!!