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The disagreement agreement: Putting your separation in writing

Sometimes, despite a promising beginning, a marriage or long-term relationship can go sour. It may be a sudden turn or it may be a gradual process. As it deteriorates, it might seem as if a couple cannot manage to agree on anything.

There may come a day, however, when both you and your partner can agree on one thing: it’s time to go your separate ways. There are different methods for going about this and the legal implications vary, depending on the nature of your relationship. For many would-be ex-partners in Ontario, a separation agreement is a sensible way to start.

What is a separation agreement?

A separation agreement is essentially a plan covering many aspects of the dissolution of a relationship, whether the parties were married or common-law. In order to have legal recognition, the agreement must be in writing, signed willingly by both parties and witnessed.

A typical separation agreement is written when a couple formally separates. The document formally addresses common issues faced by couples with a relationship that has legal standing. Once signed, dated and witnessed, the agreement is legally binding and can be difficult to undo or amend.

What issues does an agreement cover?

An agreement may address many aspects of family law including, but not limited to:

  • Child and spousal support
  • Division of assets and property
  • Division of debts
  • Child care issues, including custody and visitation

Although parents are free to set their own custody and access arrangements, final say over these decisions goes to the courts. A judge must agree that the plan as drafted by the parents meets what are in the child’s best interests. If a judge does not agree, he or she may order an alternative arrangement.

Creating a valid and enforceable separation agreement

It is important to ensure that a separation agreement will stand up to scrutiny should either party ever feel they’ve been short-changed in some manner. It must also be legally enforceable, if the need ever arises. Making sure your settlement agreement meets both these criteria will require taking certain actions.

Once your agreement is completed, it’s prudent for both parties to seek independent legal counsel and to register the document with the provincial courts. A judge can enforce a registered agreement in the event of a dispute or if your ex-spouse refuses to uphold his or her end of the agreement.

Where can you find the help and support you need?

One possible way of making sure your agreement is solid is to work with a lawyer. By seeking your own, independent legal counsel, you can be sure that your agreement will have been examined thoroughly by someone with extensive understanding of Ontario family law.

A separation agreement may be a good first step along the road to a divorce, or it may be an assurance of rights for someone exiting a common-law relationship. Either way, a skilled and dedicated lawyer can help you draft a tailor-made agreement for your unique needs.

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