Thinking about ending a partnership is never easy. It’s a time that can feel frightening and fraught with confusion, and that’s on top of whatever stress or other frustration your relationship may be causing you day-to-day.
If you are involved in a troubled marriage in Edmonton or elsewhere in Alberta– and giving thought to ending it but uncertain whether that’s the right decision for you and your family – separation may be the right option for you. Conversely, you may feel entirely certain of your intent to divorce and view separation simply as a legal steppingstone on the path toward dissolving your marriage.
Regardless of your reason for separating, obtaining a separation agreement—a legal contract that addresses important issues such as spousal support/alimony, division of assets and child custody and support (if applicable)—can help establish the immediate terms of your separation as well as simplify the process if and when you do eventually decide to divorce. The skilled family lawyers of Chadi & Company can help you achieve your goals in a separation agreement.
What is a separation agreement and what does it cover?
A separation agreement is a legal contract between you and your partner or ex. Indeed, it is legally binding when filed properly. Generally, your separation agreement should determine your and your ex’s rights and responsibilities to one another and to your children in regard to financial support, marital property and debt, and living situation while you are separated. Should you and your spouse ultimately move forward with a divorce, if you both feel satisfied with the terms of your existing separation agreement, you can opt to use it as a framework for your divorce settlement. This can save you both a tremendous amount of time, money and emotional labour in the long run.
Depending on your needs and long-term objectives, you can choose to get as specific as you want in the details of your particular separation contract. Obscure unique circumstances notwithstanding, the following legal matters should be addressed in your separation agreement as they apply:
- Spousal Support – Spousal support, also known as alimony, generally consists of regular payments from one former spouse to the other in order to account for an imbalance in income or earning potential, that would otherwise make it very difficult or impossible for the lesser-earning party to maintain a reasonable or equitable standard of living. Your separation agreement should state which party (if any) will receive alimony, how much alimony they will receive, and how frequently the payments should be made. It should also be noted that some couples agree not to establish spousal support during a period of separation, but that does not disqualify them from seeking support should a divorce follow.
- Property division – Your separation agreement should take inventory of any valuable assets, including real estate, vehicles, art and other items of monetary or sentimental value and identify which party is entitled to which items/properties. Should you decide to sell the marital home, the separation agreement would state how the sale should be handled, which party is responsible for which upfront costs and how the net funds should be divided. Should one party remain in the marital home, the contract should specify whom.
- Debt division – Debts are also considered part of the marital estate that should be divided and paid out equitably. Your separation agreement should specify which party will assume responsibility for which debts and how they will be paid out (such as through the sale of the marital home or other assets) and establish a plan for dividing future debts incurred during the course of separation.
- Retirement accounts and other financial assets – Should you and/or your ex have pensions, RSPs, RESPs or other types of investment or retirement accounts, your separation agreement should divide them equitably, even if they cannot be collected yet based on your age.
- Matters concerning your children – If one or more children resulted from your relationship, your separation agreement must address all related applicable issues: Child custody and parenting schedule/visitation, amount of child support to be paid and by whom, responsibility for other parenting costs, and rights to make significant parenting decisions.
Who can get a separation agreement in Alberta and when should they be obtained?
Married couples in Edmonton and throughout the province can, unsurprisingly, obtain a separation agreement. What might surprise some people to learn is that under the law certain couples engaged in cohabitation or what is known as “adult interdependent relationships” (or sometimes called common-law relationships) can also obtain separation agreements when they end their relationship. The following types of couples are considered to be in adult interdependent relationships:
- Those that have cohabitated (meaning lived together and shared lives, responsibilities, finances, etc.) continuously for at least three years
- Those that have cohabitated for less than three years but signed an Adult Interdependent Partnership Agreement
- Those that have cohabitated for less than three years but parent one or more children together
Couples seeking a separation agreement can begin drafting the document whenever they decide to end their relationship—even if they continue to live under the same roof. They can also talk to a lawyer and compose the agreement at any point after they’ve begun living separately. It should be noted that couples seeking a no-fault divorce, after separation for at least one year, are not legally required to have a separation agreement in place in order to make their divorce official, but having one often expedites the divorce process.
Reach out to a knowledgeable Alberta lawyer for help with your separation agreement or other family law matter
If you’ve made the difficult decision to begin the process of ending your marriage or another type of domestic partnership, you need a legal advocate who will help protect your interests and wellbeing during your separation and into the future. The compassionate and highly skilled lawyers of Chadi & Company are here to ensure that your separation agreement provides for you and your children. To learn more about our full scope of legal services, call (780) 429-2300 or contact us online today and book your free consultation.