Couples can often decide to go their own ways but not immediately feel the need to push for a divorce. This could be for any number of reasons and each case is unique. But it does leave both parties in limbo somewhat, unless inroads are made to clarify the legal standing of the relationship.

Not doing this can lead to quarrels over household bills, possessions, how best to deal with joint assets and how best to help any children involved. However much couples trust each other and part on good terms, doubts and problems will inevitably arise.

In other cases, couples are sure they want to push straight ahead to get a divorce but are unsure of the procedure.

With the increasing popularity of civil partnerships and same sex unions, additional issues need to be considered and the rules on who is responsible for what can again be slightly different.

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A separation agreement is also known as a Deed of Separation. It records from the start who is to have what and what the parties’ responsibilities are, and can help avoid the need for court proceedings at a later stage.

In a separation agreement, each party must produce full and frank financial disclosure, showing documentary evidence of their assets and liabilities. Each party exchanges this information with the other. Then a discussion takes place – and hopefully an explicit separation agreement can then be drawn up.

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The separation agreement includes such information as age, employment and accommodation. It will also have details about you and your partner, where you intend to live, how you intend to split your monies and who will have control of the sale of any property. It may also dictate who will pay for what and have information relating to the arrangements for any children.

An agreement of this kind is not a court order and the court are not involved in its preparation. In other words, it’s a gentleman’s agreement which the parties would feel morally bound to keep but, unfortunately, there is initially no legal penalty for failing to do so. They can however be incredibly helpful in obtaining a quicker agreement on the division of assets should a divorce follow the separation.

The separation agreement can be shown to the court for its opinion on whether there was an agreement and whether the agreement has been broken.

If a couple have successfully agreed to a division of their family assets and the agreement has worked well for a period of two or so years, this could form the basis of a Consent Order to a district judge, as part of the process of filing for divorce.

The time it takes to finalise financial affairs at the end of a marriage can be significantly reduced when a separation agreement has previously been drawn up.

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