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A separation agreement is a legally binding document made between a married couple who are not yet ready to file for a divorce but have decided they want to live apart from one another.

Separation papers signed by both spouses include financial disclosures and address issues such as child custody, spousal support, and living arrangements. The couple is still legally married and can even take advantage of certain insurance and tax benefits.

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You may want to use a separation agreement if, for example, you and your spouse have decided to live apart to see if a divorce is really what you want, or if you plan to separate and need to formally agree on how you will divide assets and handle child support or alimony.

As a reference, a separation agreement may be known by different names in other states, including:

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  • Separation Papers
  • Legal Separation
  • Separation Letter
  • Marriage Separation Agreement

For additional information, see our complete guide to what is a separation agreement.

Table of Contents

How To Write a Separation Agreement

A written separation agreement should identify the following elements:

Basic information:

  • Names and address(es) of the couple that wants to separate
  • Date of marriage
  • Date of separation
  • Confirmation that the couple meets the residency requirements for their state
  • Reason for the couple’s separation (legal grounds for separation vary by state and may include grounds such as irreconcilable differences, general indignities, adultery, etc)
  • Whether the separation is temporary or permanent
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Division of finances:

  • Division of real property, including primary and vacation homes
  • Division of assets, including cars, collections, antiques, furniture
  • Division of financial investment accounts including stocks and bonds
  • Division of financial obligations like mortgages, loans, bills, debts, and taxes
  • Division of marital property versus prior personal property

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Division of shared responsibilities:

  • Child custody and living arrangements (if the couple has children under the age of 18)
  • Visitation schedules for the non-custodial parent
  • Plans for child care (e.g., medical insurance, family involvement, school obligations, etc.)
  • Child support and/or spousal support
  • Division of unexpected medical, educational, or other expenses

To write legal separation papers online, download our fillable free separation agreement template below in PDF or click “Create Document” to access our step-by-step document builder.

What To Include in a Separation Agreement

When writing your separation agreement, you should include detailed financial plans such as the following:

  • Arrangements regarding primary residence, including plans to sell and immediately divide proceeds, plans to sell the home after a set period of time, or plans for one spouse to assume the home, including mortgage, if any, and/or buying out the other spouse
  • Distribution of vacation homes, timeshares, or other real estate
  • Assignment of assets and debts
  • Plan for who keeps personal items and timeframe for collecting
  • Provisions for temporary financial support

Above all else, there are five critical items a separation agreement must have, as applicable, to be valid:

  • Distribution of marital assets and debts
  • Child support
  • Child custody
  • Visitation
  • Spousal support

Additionally, you should consider including arrangements for potential future situations that may occur after the separation:

  • What is to be done in the event of the death of either spouse
  • Expectations for incorporation of a new relationship or cohabitation by either spouse
  • Design for significant changes in circumstance, such as a change in income
  • Conditions that allow for variations in arrangements
  • Consequences for breach of the separation agreement

Tips for Writing a Separation Agreement

Additional expenses for child care

As you write your separation agreement, take into account additional expenses you may incur for child care. In addition to potential expenses for private school and contributions to college funds, children often require payment for non-budgeted extracurricular activities, such as school sports, school trips, school events, private lessons, etc.

Be sure to specify who is responsible for such expenses. Alternatively, you can consider having a 50/50 arrangement or opening a joint bank account used solely for those purposes.

Omitted assets or property

Issues related to property division are generally straightforward and your written agreement will reflect that. However, it’s best to include provisions that address the distribution of forgotten assets including non-disclosed or omitted property. These written provisions, a 50/50 division, for example, will help you avoid having to go to court in the future.

Seek advice if necessary

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Depending on your family’s needs, writing some aspects of your separation agreement can be challenging. If your agreement’s legal or tax-related consequences are complicated, be sure to seek financial advice from an accountant or legal advice from an attorney.

As you write, remember that rules regarding separation agreements differ from state to state. Be sure you are using the rules in your state and have determined how they may affect your written agreement.

Not all states have laws that recognize legal separation, i.e you cannot petition the court to be separated legally. The states that don’t acknowledge legal documentation of separation are Florida, Delaware, Georgia, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Mississippi. In those states, writing a separation agreement is still a valid means of dealing with finances, support, and child custody issues.

Sample Separation Agreement Template

Below is a sample of a separation agreement available to download in PDF or Word doc format.

5 min read ⌚

What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently

When you want to learn something, it’s always a good idea to learn from the most thorough. In the world of management, that title belongs to Marcus Buckingham. Co-authored with Curt Coffman, “First, Break All the Rules” is a first-rate management classic.

Let’s find out why.

About Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman

Marcus Buckingham is a British Cambridge-educated business consultant and motivational speaker. He was recruited by Donald O. Clifton to work for Gallup, where he was in charge of few large-scale surveys on which his books are based. He is also the founder of the Marcus Buckingham Company (TMBC), a management training program.

Curt Coffman worked for Gallup for more than two decades before becoming a Chief Science Officer and a Senior Partner of The Coffman Organization. He is a consultant to many Fortune 500 organizations.

“First Break All the Rules Summary”

Flynn heath holt

When “Time Magazine” includes a book in its list of “The 25 Most Influential Business Management Books” – you take notice. And when decides that it is also good for its top 15 management picks, you can be sure that the book is a perennial classic.

We’re talking about “First, Break All the Rules,” Marcus Buckingham’s and Curt Coffman’s attempt to discover what the great managers do differently than the average ones.

But, they show no interest in theoretical discussions. Oh, no!

Published by Gallup, “First, Break All the Rules” – just like its companion-piece, “Now, Discover Your Strengths” – is, in fact, an in-depth report of the largest management surveys ever undertaken. And if you’re wondering how big are we talking about, let’s crunch the numbers.

The first one is a survey of almost 2 million employees! The main finding of this one was that “talented employees need great managers;” the other ones, however, were used much more extensively in “Now, Discover Your Strengths,” the book this survey is the sole basis of.

The second one encompasses 80,000 12-question interviews conducted over a quarter of a century, with as many managers working for over 400 successful companies! And it’s the one which made “First, Break All the Rules” possible.

The title is not a coincidence – it is the common denominator of the managers in question. Or, to be more exact, it is what makes great managers – great.

Simply put: they are unconventional. Even if that means being, simply, much more realistic. First of all, they don’t believe that anyone can be whatever he or she wants to be. So, they hire talented people with the right attitude; and teach them the necessary skills afterwards.

However, they don’t really care about their weaknesses. To them, it’s pointless to try and help your employees overcome them. You need to focus on their strengths and use them to their full potential.

And since they are result-oriented and are aware of the fact that they deal with a very colorful group of people, they have customized four levels of management support. Each of them is directed towards a different type of employee in order to maximize its potential.

The Base Camp is the first level. Its intended for people who are still in the what’s-expected-of-me and do-I -have-what-you-need phase. Obviously, they ask and need nothing more but a clarification of their manager’s expectations and some resources to meet them.

Camp 1 is all about job satisfaction and encouragement. It should be directed towards the employees who have met the initial expectations. Their question is what they will get if they exceed them. Explain this to them. But don’t make the mistake of giving titles as rewards. Be more creative.

Camp 2 is about personal fulfillment. There’s no point in expecting more than a Camp 1 performance from someone who’s not really into the job he’s working and hasn’t found at least one friend among his colleagues. (OK, unless he’s a lone wolf – those are notoriously difficult to manage). Camp 2 employees are aiming for the top. See if they understand how they can get there.

At Camp 3, managing is almost unnecessary. These are the employees already enthusiastic about their personal growth and work progress. The only thing they need is stability.

And they deserve that reward.

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Key Lessons from “First Break All the Rules PDF”

1. Use Your Employees’ Strengths and Don’t Upgrade Their Weaknesses
2. Break the Golden Rule and Play Favorites
3. These Are the Four Key Management Skills

Use Your Employees’ Strengths and Don’t Upgrade Their Weaknesses

Most people think that a good manager is the one who’ll transform his employees’ weaknesses into strengths. Two enormous Gallup studies have proven otherwise: great managers never care about individuals, they care about teams. So, they disregard their employees’ weaknesses and learn how to achieve more with what they have.

It’s like managing a basketball team! It’s pointless to teach your center to shoot 3s: it’s much more sensible to be aware of the strengths of each member of your roster.

Break the Golden Rule and Play Favorites

Speaking of which – the golden rule of management is “try to disregard the golden rule.” Some may say differently, but it seems that treating your employees as equals does nobody any favors. Playing favorites is much more reasonable.

To apply the basketball analogy once again: if you don’t favor LeBron James over your other players, both in logistical and financial terms, you’ll probably lose him.

These Are the Four Key Management Skills

If you want to be a great manager, you need to be able to do at least four different things. First of all, you need to know how to hire the right people. Then, it’s essential to know how to set expectations, specific to each of them.

Thirdly, you must know how to motivate all members of your team. And finally, you have to be able to properly develop the career of each employee, based on his strengths and dedication, but also in view of the vision and the needs of your company.

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“First, Break All the Rules” Quotes

BreakGreat managers do share one thing: Before they do anything else, they first break all the rules of conventional wisdom. Click To TweetThe best managers consistently disregard the Golden Rule. And yes, they even play favorites. Click To TweetTalented employees need great managers. Click To TweetToday more than ever before, if a company is bleeding people, it is bleeding value. Click To TweetPeople don’t change that much. Don’t waste time trying to put in what was left out. Try to draw out what was left in. That is hard enough. Click To Tweet

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