In our experience, the majority of couples who separate are keen to resolve matters on an amicable basis, without resorting to court action. This is achieved by entering into a legal contract called a Separation Agreement and is often what is meant when people talk about a ‘legal separation’.
The following are some of our most frequently asked questions when it comes to Separation Agreements.
A Separation Agreement, if prepared and signed correctly, is a legally binding document. It can be prepared for married couples as well as cohabiting couples and civil partners.
A Separation Agreement will primarily outline how the various assets and liabilities are to be divided and who will be responsible for payment of any joint bills. It is common for such an agreement to also include reference to the agreed care arrangements for any children of the relationship. It can also stipulate any financial arrangements for the children, such as the amount of child maintenance to be paid and who will be responsible for payment of any school fees.
Once the agreement has been signed by both parties, then they can normally apply for a straightforward divorce if they are married or dissolution if they are in a civil partnership once they have been separated for one or two years.
One of the benefits of entering into a Separation Agreement is that it gives the couple control over the terms of the settlement, unlike applying to the court, where there is no guarantee of the outcome.
Another benefit is that it is a much cheaper way than applying to the court.
Also, once it is signed, the Separation Agreement will normally represent a full and final legal settlement, which means that neither party can come back at a later date and ask for more money than they received under the agreement. As such, it provides people with certainty, allowing them to move on with their lives after separation.
A separation agreement is a legally binding contract and if it is prepared correctly and then registered, it will normally have the same effect as a court order (with some exceptions, such as any orders relating to the care arrangements for any children, which cannot be enforced by the court). However, although once a couple have signed a Separation Agreement they will generally have severed all ties with one another, they will still remain married. The Separation Agreement does not grant them a divorce. A divorce will extinguish any inheritance rights on the death of the other spouse. A Separation Agreement might cover this eventuality but it is something that would need to be specifically covered in the Separation Agreement otherwise a separated spouse might be able to make a claim on the estate of the other if they die.
One party will still need to initiate divorce proceedings, either using the ordinary procedure or, if applicable, using the simplified/DIY divorce procedure. However, if all financial and childcare matters have been resolved, the court will simply need to be asked to grant the divorce at that stage.
Our Family Law Solicitors can talk you through your legal entitlement to assets on separation, advise you what options are available to you in your specific circumstances and draft the agreement for you. If the asset split is under dispute, we can also help with negotiating a settlement through alternative dispute resolution.
Some couples will choose to come to an agreement themselves and then one of them will instruct us to draft the separation agreement. Or, where agreement is not possible, we can give clients specific advice on what they are entitled to on separation and they can instruct us to negotiate a settlement on their behalf, which will later involve preparing a Separation Agreement.
At Thorntons Family Law, we offer an initial free no-obligation chat over the phone to outline your options and the possible costs.
Depending on your case and circumstances, the next step is to come into one of our local offices to meet a Family Law Solicitor about your case and the way forward.
Call us on 03330 430 150 for a chat or contact us to book an appointment.
If you are unsure about your situation, and want to know where you stand before deciding what to do, we offer an Advice Package with a fixed price of £250 inclusive of VAT so you can talk to one of our Solicitors in more depth about your options. After the meeting, you may decide not to take things any further. If you do decide to move forward the £250 fee is offset from your overall bill.
We are always clear to clients about the potential costs of any option and offer a range of payment options. In some cases we can offer clients a fixed price package. If we cannot offer a fixed price service, we charge based on the time we spend on your case, including meetings, emails, phone calls and court representations. Depending on your case and circumstances, you may also need to cover outlays, such as court costs or payments to independent experts. We will set out our fees and likely extra costs for you at the start and keep you informed of any possible changes as your case progresses.
Please note we do not offer Legal Aid for this service.
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