What is a “separation agreement”?

A separation agreement is the written record of how a couple has settled of the issues arising from the end of their relationship. For most spouses, these issues include:

  • Who the children should live with and how decisions about the care of the children will be made? Under the Divorce Act this is called custody; under the Family Law Act this is called parental responsibilities and parenting arrangements.
  • How the spouses will share the children’s time. Under the Divorce Act this is called access; under the Family Law Act this is called parenting time and contact.
  • How the spouses will cover the children’s financial needs. This is called child support.
  • Whether a spouse is entitled to financial help meeting his or her expenses, and, if so, who should provide that help and in what amount. This is called spousal support.

Separation agreements and court orders can resolve some family matters when you separate but they do not legally end your marriage.

The only way to legally end your marriage is to get a divorce.

The best way to make sure of these things is to have your lawyer read the agreement and give you advice. You and your spouse cannot both get advice from the same lawyer.
Once you sign a separation agreement, you will both have to follow it unless you both agree to change it, or a judge decides that there is a good reason to change it.
If you can manage to settle these issues, you should consider making a separation agreement for two reasons. First, separation agreements are legal contracts that can be enforced by the court. Second, it’s much cheaper and often quicker to resolve these issues by agreement than in court.