Separation Agreement Information

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Coming To Terms

Somewhere in the divorce process, most couples eventually come to terms regarding their children’s custody, support issues (both child and spousal support), their property interests and their debts. When this agreement is reached and put to writing it is generally referred to as a Property Settlement Agreement (usually abbreviated “PSA”) or Separation Agreement.

Domestic relations cases usually settle in the beginning when both parties feel a bit guilty or desirous of “getting it over with right now” or in the end when both are exhausted. It is the rare case that is fully litigated in the proverbial “knock down, drag out, unlimited mud-slinging” fashion.

Negotiating For Your Best Interests

A very wise judge said that only the two parties to a divorce have the knowledge and the information necessary to arrive at a fair settlement. No matter how much time a judge devotes to hearing a case, no judge could ever order as fair a result for the family as two mature adults acting in good faith can do regarding their former united assets.

We believe that to be the case. Lawyers are best used to add substance to vague ideas, put language to images, and offer constructive thoughts on how to overcome seemingly insurmountable hurdles. Use us for that and you will be getting true value for your hard-earned money. Sometimes (and sometimes it is our client), one of the parties will act totally irrationally and litigation is the only solution. Even in that situation, a property/custody settlement agreement is feasible, as the two attorneys attempt to bring reason to the situation.

Normally your attorney (or your spouse’s attorney) will draw up the agreement. While you may draft your own agreement, we do not advise this. This is not because we want to make a fee off your case. Experienced domestic relations attorneys just know how to write these things. We know the language the judges look for to “seal” the deal, to make the agreement concrete, to tie up loose ends, close loopholes, identify issues you didn’t think existed, and in every other manner make sure you have in writing what you bargained for.

The Four Major Areas Of a Separation Agreement

You may include many things in your agreement. For most agreements, the subjects covered can be summarized into four major categories:

  • Custody of the children, and visitation arrangements
  • Support (both child support and spousal support, including health and life insurance protection)
  • Division of Property (the house, the cars, the stocks, the retirement pay, and the dog)
  • Division of Debts (in addition to the Master Card, don’t forget the property taxes on the boat)

Other issues must also be resolved, but they generally are subcategories of the above four. Some of these important issues are court costs and attorney’s fees — Who pays? Who gets to claim the children as income tax deductions? Private school or college tuition?

Separation Agreement Pointers

If, and as, you try to work something out with your spouse without using an attorney, the following are some useful pointers to remember:

Meet On Neutral Ground:
Not at her office or at his mother’s home, but some place where you both will feel comfortable. Put aside time — A reasonable amount of time should be set aside to deal with the issues. If you leave to answer a telephone call just as you almost have things worked out, you may find that things have fallen apart when you get back. On the other hand, do not leave the meeting time open-ended. A meeting without a deadline will drag on and issues will not get resolved.

Keep The Kids Out Of It:
Your children do not need to be involved in this. Do not have them around. They will interrupt you, and it will upset them.

Set An Agenda:
Decide what will be dealt with at the meeting. “This week we will decide on custody and child support, next week we will decide on the house.”

Do Not Bog Down:
Try to talk about what you agree on. No matter how bad it is, there are some things you agree on (“the marriage stinks” or “the kids are cute”). If you hit a point that gives you trouble, move on to something else and come back to the problem after you have resolved some other issues. DON’T YELL! Stay calm. If you or your spouse begins to shout, do what you do with your kids. Go to “time out.” Do not let your spouse drag you down to an immature level.

Reschedule As Needed:
If things start to turn nasty, if someone gets angry, or if you think you are losing everything, stop! Re-schedule the meeting for another time. It is important that both of you feel that the agreement is a good thing.

Start Talking Early:
Divorces usually settle early on when both parties feel guilty and are not locked into a position, or divorces settle after much litigation when the parties are too exhausted to fight anymore. Sometimes you can get more with guilt than you can get at a trial.

Trust Your Attorney:
If your attorney said in an earlier conference that “X” is the law, and your spouse tells you that the law is “Y,” believe what your attorney said. For example, if your attorney says that you can claim a share of your spouse’s military retirement after a marriage of 9 years, and your spouse says it can only happen after 10 years, don’t forfeit your claim to the retirement. Your attorney was right. The first person that will lie to or mislead you about property and “the law” is your spouse. Unfortunately, we find that the first person you will tend to believe (especially –and not to be sexist– the wives) will be your spouse.

Know When Not To Continue The Process:
If you find yourself at a negotiating disadvantage (due to intimidation, past abuse, threats of physical harm or “I’ll take the children if you don’t accept my terms” type pressure, domination of the process, etc.) cut off negotiations and let your attorney handle things.

If you and your spouse work out something and you make notes, do not sign the notes. This could be considered to be an agreement. If it is not in the correct legal language, you may be bound to something other than what you thought you agreed to.