DIY Separation Agreement May Come Back to Haunt You
Trust me: I am one of the loudest proponents of DIY, but when it comes to writing your separation own agreement, I strongly suggest you don’t!
We say this all the time: “this is probably your first divorce, but for us, the number is in the thousands!” This is not to minimize your experience – divorce is hard and it has huge implications emotionally, socially and financially. With so much going on, it is understandable that you want to save time and money, and there are ways to do just that! However, writing your own separation agreement is not one of those ways! In fact, it can have the opposite effect by becoming a costly production and exposing you to potential challenges. How can you avoid this?
To protect yourself, I urge you to consider the following:
- A separation agreement is first and foremost a legal document. It is your contract that outlines terms regarding child custody, property division, child and spousal support, what happens with your retirement funds, debts and other financial matters. In addition, it serves to spell out other terms that may be important to you, such a religious upbringing of children, dietary preferences, insurance coverage and more. It is important, therefore, that this document is well written and adequately reflective of your intentions.
- A separation agreement contains legalese which needs to be thoroughly explained and understood by both of you. Copying and pasting from a friend’s agreement or using online templates will not provide you with a customized agreement nor all of the information about what you are getting yourself into upon signing it. It is very difficult to undo mistakes, so you might as well do it right the first time!
- Having an understanding of each other’s finances is critical. Lots of home-made agreements we have seen lack in the area of proper financial disclosure. If something happens down the road, this missing piece can unravel your entire agreement. You really don’t want to find yourself in a situation where you’d have to search for old bank statements or worse, be accused of not properly disclosing or purposely hiding assets, monies, collectibles or other perceived valuables. It is far better to have this financial disclosure properly done and attached to your separation agreement. Look at it as a form of protection or insurance against an unknown and ever-changing future.
- Your divorce may not be granted! Lots of parents are shocked to hear that even though they came up with a mutually agreeable arrangement, their divorce may not be granted. I hear you! Why would the legal system tell you what to do with your family affairs when you are already seemingly in agreement? The reason is, going back to the separation agreement being a legal document, there are some rules that need to be followed no matter what, especially regarding support for children and the protection of vulnerable parties. It doesn’t mean that you will need to trash your DIY deal, but it may require some brainstorming and specific wording to fully satisfy the requirements for granting your divorce. Just imagine going through the motions, waiting 12 months and your divorce gets denied because of something that could have been totally preventable! No fun going back in time – not for this stuff anyways!
There Is a Better Way to Save Money, Time and Headaches!
If you want to save time, money and future headaches, drafting your own separation agreement is not the way to go! There is a much better way to go about it and this is one of the first things I share with parents who contact me: First, meet with your former spouse over a coffee or even two or three and, discuss everything you agree on regarding parenting, support and property division. You don’t have to agree on everything, but the more you agree on, the less time you will spend in any process. That’s the smart way of saving time and money! Second, once you agree on everything or even on some of the issues, you can engage a family mediator to guide you through the next steps, help with unresolved matters and see you to the finish line!