A married couple, instead of filing for divorce, can enter into and sign a Legal Separation Agreement, or a Marital Settlement Agreement, when they no longer wish to live together, but have no desire to be divorced at this time, due to many reasons, such as they are unsure if they want to be divorced, or they cannot afford the legal fees involved in divorce proceedings, or a financial benefit such as continued health insurance. Unlike a divorce, a Legal Separation Agreement does not end the marriage.
This Agreement is an all-important document that acts as a kind of blueprint to what is going to happen in the post-divorce world,financially and otherwise.
The Agreement is a contract which settles all of the outstanding issues to be resolved during the separation, such as the division of marital property, child custody, child support, visitation schedule, spousal support etc. Problems arise when the Agreement fails to account for any host of potential issues that not only may arise but are almost guaranteed to come up. For example, if there is a "change of circumstances" such as a dramatic change in the childrens' needs, or one party makes a lot more or a lot less money, either side can go back into court and ask the judge to either receive more financial support or pay less financial support. If the Agreement does not plan ahead for such contingencies, expect to endure a lot of back-and forth and potential legal wrangling with your ex down the road. The ink may be barely dry on many divorce Agreements, before one of the parties is back in court demanding a change to the Agreement. Therefore it is important to have an ironclad marital Agreement drafted from the outset.
The Agreement is filed with the Clerk of the County where either spouse resides.
Either spouse can file a divorce application after one year from the signing of the Agreement, as long as they have lived up to the obligations in the Agreement, and the terms of the Agreement will be incorporated into the final Judgment of Divorce. The advantage of entering into and signing a Legal Separation Agreement is that it allows both parties to work out and settle in advance the details of the above referenced issues, and in the event of a divorce, to avoid protracted and costly litigation.