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Why a Do It Yourself Separation Agreement is a Bad Idea in Alberta

Why a Do It Yourself Separation Agreement is a Bad Idea in Alberta

You’ve figured out that a separation agreement, while not required for any separated couple, is nevertheless an outstanding idea. Yet now you’re trying to figure out how, exactly, you’re going to get this job done. 

You may be tempted to try to draw up a separation agreement on your own. After all, online forms do exist, and creating the document may not seem all that hard.

Hiring a separation lawyer, by contrast, might feel intimidating and expensive. 

Yet there are good reasons to involve your Alberta divorce lawyer with your separation agreement.

What Can Go Wrong With a DIY Separation Agreement?

First, it’s important to be aware that a “separation agreement” can serve two purposes.

The first is to dissolve a common law marriage or an adult interdependent partnership. This means the separation agreement essentially serves as a divorce settlement; once it’s in place there will be no further action. Your common-law partnership will have come to an end.

The second is to negotiate major issues of the divorce while you’re going through your legal separation in anticipation of a divorce, as well as throughout the divorce process. 

This period typically lasts just under two years: one year for the separation and up to 12 more months to get the divorce finalized. But you should be careful about treating the separation agreement as “temporary.” All too often, the terms of the agreement form the eventual foundation for the terms of the divorce, especially if the matter goes to court.

After all, if you were willing to agree to conditions in your separation then they’re obviously livable for you and workable for you. The logic may not seem particularly fair, but we see it happen all the time.

Another issue is that if you don’t take certain steps to register your agreement correctly with the courts then the document won’t even be legally binding. 

One of the greatest advantages of a separation agreement is the ability to get the court to back it and enforcement. Without a court order, your spouse may simply decide, for example, to stop paying maintenance one day…and there would be very little you could do about it.

In addition, in a DIY agreement, your spouse has fewer incentives to play fair: to make their financial disclosures properly and to represent their situation correctly. This may mean you agree to terms that leave you at a severe disadvantage. Lawyers can usually catch these errors, omissions, and attempts to deceive. 

Lawyers can also catch instances where one spouse or the other tries to add terms that aren’t even legal. For example, your spouse may try to pressure you into a separation agreement that does not include child support. In reality, it is not permissible to create an agreement without child support if there are minor children involved in the partnership or marriage. You could lose months of support money simply because you did not realize you had a legal right to it and entered into what amounted to an informal agreement that nobody who might have enforced it even knew about. 

Finally, the language that you use in a separation agreement can make a big difference. Fail to write your separation agreement correctly, and you could end up with a document that is too ambiguous to enforce, which sparks more fights in the future, or which simply do not work. 

What Does It Mean To Be Legally Separated in Alberta?

You do not need a separation agreement to be legally separated in Alberta, but they do help.

You are legally separated as soon as you start living your lives “separate and apart,” even if you continue to live in the same home as roommates. 

This can mean you stop sharing a bed, stop cooking and eating together, and you stop doing chores together. It almost always means decoupling your finances: converting your joint bank account to individual bank accounts is one very good way to show the separation is bona fide. 

A separation agreement is helpful because it also documents the date of your separation. In a province where the vast majority of couples will have to be legally separated for one year before they can pursue a formal divorce, that date can become vital to allowing you to move forward with both your divorce and your life. 

What Should Go Into a Separation Agreement in Alberta? 

All the major issues of a divorce should be addressed in a separation agreement. This includes:

While the terms you set in the separation agreement do not have to become the terms of your eventual divorce decree, it is common enough that you should consult with your lawyer before agreeing to anything. 

How Much Does a Separation Agreement Cost in Alberta?

Believe it or not, handling a separation agreement properly costs less than you might imagine. Between court fees and legal fees, each member of the partnership should expect to pay around $1,250 if neither party spends a lot of time arguing about the terms of the agreement.

If your agreement is a prelude to a divorce working with a lawyer can help you save money on the divorce itself, as the major issues of the divorce will already have been negotiated through the separation agreement. 

Remember that the divorce itself will have costs. The decisions you make and the terms you agree to can have long-term financial consequences. If your spouse pressures you into maintenance terms that are unfair to you, for example, you could literally lose hundreds of thousands of dollars over the course of the agreement.

Why Trust Us With Your Separation Agreement?

We have decades of experience with family law matters. Most of our lawyers have been working for over twenty years.

We’re respectful, responsive, and work hard to defend your interests.

Call (587) 689-3333 to get matched with one of our top-notch family law lawyers today.