MIAMI, Florida. Separation is often the first step many couples take as they begin the process of getting divorced. Sometimes a separation can be a trial period, giving you and your ex time and space to live apart and to decide whether you want to move forward with divorce or try to work things out. However, without a sound separation agreement in place, you run the risk of losing out on important legal rights. Separations also shouldn’t serve as a replacement for finalizing your divorce. While some couples might choose to remain separated for longer periods of time, long-term separation comes with its own risks and drawbacks. According to Forbes, long-term separations can make you vulnerable to any financial decisions your ex makes, like the decision to take on added debt, make purchases, or sell assets. If you are planning on getting separated before you get divorced, you should have a strong separation agreement in place to protect your rights. What should be included in this agreement? Here are four essential things your separation agreement should include:

  1. A parenting plan if you have children. If you are getting separated and plan to live in separate homes or apartments, you’ll need to make decisions about where your children will live, how visitation will be arranged, and how child support will be paid. If you have children, decisions you make for your children in your separation agreement can create consistency and regular support that protects your rights and your family. Essentially, if you plan to get separated, your parenting plan should be as thorough as any divorce parenting plan.
  2. Division of assets and debts. Separation doesn’t grant you the same legal and financial protections that divorce offers. However, you can protect your financial and legal interests by dividing your assets and debts on paper when you split up. Separate bank accounts. Pay off shared debts or work to restructure debts so that each of you own the debt separately. If you must share debts or assets, make sure there is a clearly written contract regarding how debts should be paid and how assets should be managed.
  3. Discuss alimony. If one partner is required to pay alimony or is entitled to alimony, the separation agreement should include this. A divorce lawyer can assist you with this process and help you understand what your rights and responsibilities might be.
  4. Discuss divorce. A separation agreement should be the foundation that you and your ex can later use should you file for divorce. In your separation agreement, you should be clear about your intent to live apart and specify a timeframe for finalizing the divorce. There are many good reasons why couples might sometimes extend their separations. For example, separated spouses may be able to enjoy certain benefits, like access to medical insurance. According to Woman’s Day, financial concerns are cited as one of the main reasons individuals and couples delay filing for divorce. That said, staying separated for too long can also have drawbacks. Many couples find it difficult to move on with their lives if they are only separated. Furthermore, if you find someone new, that person could complicate your divorce. Generally, once you separate, you should have a plan in place to get divorced.
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