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The Divorce Encyclopedia
Separation Agreement

Term Definition Separation Agreement - an agreement on support, child care and property covering the period before divorce but after separation.
Application in Divorce Same as Agreement.

Sometimes the term separation agreement describes an agreement or understanding between spouses who have separated but not yet moved toward divorce.

Sometimes the term is used in a more majoritive sense, depending upon practice and the jurisdiction, to mean the marital settlement agreement, property settlement agreement, marital agreement.

The phrase divorce agreement is normally not used because only a court can grant a divorce.

Normally, the agreement is incorporated in the final decree or judgment granting the divorce.

The agreement describes the terms and conditions for ending a marriage, and it deals with spousal and child support, insurance (health, life and disability), the family house and other real estate, cars, household items, stocks, bonds and mutual funds, bank accounts, retirement plans and pensions, bank accounts, pets, frequent flier miles, stock options, name changes, all debt, tax payments, fees for lawyers and counselors, provisions for modification, dispute resolution and the designation of a state of jurisdiction.

Separation agreements are normally interpreted by the same rules contracts are interpreted, and when they are incorporated into a divorce decree, courts construe them as contracts, not judgments. When the meaning is clear, courts do not look outside the four corners of the agreement. Evidence outside the four corners, which is called extrinsic or parol evidence, is generally not considered.

An agreement is unclear when its plain meaning cannot be understood: "An instrument is ambiguous when the language is reasonably susceptible to more than one meaning," as one court said. Moreover, an agreement may be clear but not complete.

The ideal separation agreement is clear and is complete.

See also Incorporation.

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