If you and your partner mostly agree on what you want to happen when you separate, you can put what you've agreed on in a separation agreement. A separation agreement is a written contract that you and your partner make that says how you will deal with your issues.
You can make a separation agreement if you’re married or in a common-law relationship.
If you’re married, you don't get a divorce by making a separation agreement. You have to apply to the court to get a divorce. But, you can agree on when and how to get a divorce in your separation agreement.
You don't need a lawyer to make a separation agreement. But it's a good idea to get your own legal advice before signing one. For example, a lawyer can help you understand your rights and responsibilities toward your children and your partner, and the rules your agreement has to follow to make it legal.
When to make a separation agreement
You can make a separation agreement at any time after you separate. But there are time limits to ask your partner for some things, like dividing property. For example, you have 6 years from the date of separation but only 2 years from the date of your divorce to divide property.
You don’t have to wait until you and your partner agree on everything before making a separation agreement. You can make a separation agreement on the things you agree on, while you continue to work on resolving your other issues. For example, if you agree on decision-making responsibility, parenting time, and child support, you can make an agreement dealing with those things, while you continue to work on your property issues. Decision-making responsibility and parenting time used to be called custody and access.
You can also make a separation agreement that lasts for a certain period of time. For example, if you agree on where your children will live just for the summer, you can say the agreement ends in September.
You can also change a separation agreement at any time by making a new one, if you and your partner agree to the changes.
Why have a separation agreement
There are many reasons to make a separation agreement. An agreement:
- can be faster, cheaper, and less stressful than going to court
- lets you and your partner decide what works best for you and your family, instead of letting the court decide
- lets others involved in your children's care, such as their school, daycare, and doctor, know what has been agreed on
- makes it easier to prove what you and your partner agreed on than with a verbal agreement
- can be used to get help from the Family Responsibility Office if there is a problem getting child support or spousal support
But, making a separation agreement may not be the best thing to do in situations where:
- you are afraid of your partner because of a history of partner abuse
- there are serious mental health or drug abuse issues
- you can't talk to your partner even with help
- you can't work together with your partner even with help
In those situations, you may need a family law professional like a mediator to help resolve your issues. The Step Get help from a family law professional gives you more information about this. Or, you may need to get a court order that you can enforce. This means that the court can order you or your partner to do what the court order says.