A Full Guide to California Separation Agreements

What is a separation agreement in California?

In California, a separation agreement is a written contract specifying the rights and obligations belonging to you and your spouse as you embark on living separate lives. As a legally binding document, one spouse may sue the other for violating the separation agreement, so you must understand its long-lasting implications before entering into one. At a minimum, nearly every separation agreement will divide all property between you and your spouse, define responsibility for outstanding debts, and detail future payments you or your spouse may make to each other such as spousal support.

Separation Agreement Template
California Separation Agreement

If your marriage resulted in a child, a separation agreement should also clearly resolve questions, including:

• Child support – Who will pay whom, by what method, and what amount?

Custody and Visitation arrangements – Who will have physical custody of the children?
If one or both parents move out-of-state, will these arrangements remainin effect?
• Healthcare – Who will be responsible for providing health and dental care for the child? Do both parents have the right to access the child’s medical records? Can each parent independently give consent for treatment of a child’s medical condition?

• Education – Which parent can make educational decisions such as which school the child will attend or choice of extracurricular activities? Who will pay for educational expenses or manage educational trusts? 

Are my spouse and I legally separated or divorced after signing a separation agreement?

No. Until a court orders otherwise, you remain married even if you and your spouse have signed a separation agreement. While these documents commonly precede divorce or legal separation, you may choose to remain married indefinitely depending on your situation.

Click here for more information on the differences between actual separation, legal separation, and divorce.

Legal Separation

Do I need a separation agreement before filing for divorce?

In California, a separation contract is not required before filing for divorce. While a separation agreement can streamline future divorce proceedings, a poorly drafted or under-negotiated contract could severely limit your rights. Further, this type of awill not necessarily commit you to filing for divorce. Click here to learn more about contested and uncontested divorces.

How a separation agreement might help you 

A separation agreement could be the right choice for you if you want a clear division of assets before or even without divorcing your spouse. Are you concerned about your spouse mismanaging marital assets or taking on debt you may be required to repay? If so, a separation agreement can provide you with more security while limiting your financial risk. Some of the benefits these agreements provided include the following:

• Securing your share of marital assets from your spouse

• Protecting your credit rating

• Limiting the risks of debt incurred by your spouse

• Setting an unambiguous date of separation.

With a separation agreement, you can protect yourself while minimally limiting your future options. Perhaps you have no doubt of wanting to proceed with a divorce; a separation agreement can expedite that resolution and minimize litigation expenses. By limiting the number of contested issues, these agreements can streamline many issues which would otherwise require a decision by the court. If you are not ready for divorce, an agreement made to separate provides a path towards legal separation. The agreement will also leave open the possibility of reconciliation if that is an option you would like to consider.

Is this type of agreement the right choice for you?

An overly simplistic separation agreement can oftentimes result in more harm than good. Generally, freely available template separation agreement forms should be avoided since every unaddressed issue becomes a potential point of costly and potentially lengthy litigation.While a particular agreement may be thoroughly detailed for one party, it may be grossly inadequate for another. An inadequate separation agreement could deprive you from your full share of unaccounted assets including the following:• Royalties from content generated during the marriage

• Digital assets such as domain names, websites, and streaming content

• Intellectual property, including works-in-progress

• Income resulting from rental properties

• Reimbursement for payment of marital debts.

If your spouse has presented you with a fully prepared separation agreement drafted without your input, consider that the agreement was probably drafted in their favor and will need careful review to protect your interests. Hire an experienced Marin Divorce Law Firm to assist you. For more information about separation agreements, contact us today.


Disclaimer: Warren Major LLP’s blog articles on its website for informational purposes only. The information contained herein may not reflect the current law in your jurisdiction. No information contained in this post should be construed as legal advice from Warren Major LLP or the individual author. This general information is not a substitute for legal advice on any subject matter. For advice pertaining to your specific case, please contact our office to schedule a consultation. No reader of this article should act or refrain from acting on the basis of any information included in, or accessible through, this article without seeking the appropriate legal or other professional advice on the particular facts and circumstances at issue from a lawyer licensed in the recipient’s state, country or other appropriate licensing jurisdiction. Using this information or sending electronic mail to Warren Major LLP or its attorneys does not create an attorney-client relationship. Any statements pertaining to past results do not guarantee future results.

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