Separation agreements: everything you need to know

Starting the separation or divorce journey is tough. During this challenging time, a separation agreement becomes a roadmap, helping deal with money, assets, and parenting. This blog breaks down the details, explaining what a separation agreement is, its pros and cons, and why it matters.

We'll dive into financial details, such as mortgages and debts, the family home, and how mediation can help. Learn more about separation agreements, so you can make informed choices and move forward with confidence.

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What is a separation agreement?

A separation agreement is a written document that outlines the terms and conditions when a couple decides to divorce or end their relationship. It addresses key aspects such as financial responsibilities, division of assets, and parental rights. This agreement provides clarity and structure during the challenging time of separation.

A separation agreement is valuable if you're unsure about divorce or civil partnership dissolution. It covers aspects like:

  • Mortgage and bills
  • Family home arrangements
  • Debt division
  • Handling savings, investments, and assets
  • Shared item decisions
  • Maintenance for you or children
  • Childcare arrangements, living, and parental access.

If you’re facing challenges, seeking support from a mediator can help you understand your next steps. If making separation permanent, the agreement sets the financial groundwork for divorce or dissolution proceedings.

Benefits and drawbacks of a separation agreement

The benefits

  • A separation agreement establishes each person’s financial commitments going forwards, thereby providing clarity and reassurance.
  • It can address arrangements in relation to childcare and thus provide stability and certainty for all involved.
  • It is not restricted by what the law says in the same way a court order is, so you can tailor arrangements to your specific needs and be creative with what you decide upon.
  • Unlike a Financial Order (via the courts), you do not need to be in the process of divorcing to agree to a separation agreement.
  • The agreement clearly marks the end of the relationship with an agreed-upon date.
  • Agreeing on mutually acceptable terms helps defuse tension in the relationship breakdown, providing a clear understanding for both parties.
  • While not legally binding, properly negotiated separation agreements are generally upheld by the court if challenged.

Potential drawbacks

  • Separation agreements are not legally binding and enforcing one can therefore be challenging.
  • Separation agreements cannot cover the sharing of pensions as a court order is required to give effect to this.
  • Changes require mutual agreement, potentially limiting flexibility if one party is unwilling to agree.
  • Whilst courts can and do uphold separation agreements if one party reneges, the court does have discretion to disregard parts or the entire agreement.

It’s important to note that these drawbacks can be overcome. For instance, family mediation is intended to help separating couples come to an informed and properly negotiated outcome with the help of a professional mediator.

What’s included in a separation agreement?

Firstly, as a precursor to any decision-making, both parties are usually expected to provide comprehensive details in relation to their respective finances. This transparency is integral to the agreement, ensuring that all financial aspects are openly acknowledged and considered during the negotiation process.

By actively engaging in full financial disclosure, both parties contribute to the creation of a thorough and equitable separation agreement and help to avoid any potential future disagreements and/or challenges to the document. Financial disclosure then helps to form the basis of decisions in relation to the following.

Financial arrangements

This section of the separation agreement serves to explicitly outline what each person’s ongoing financial responsibilities will be - i.e., in relation to payment property costs and bills. By identifying who has responsibility for what payments going forwards, the separation agreement helps clients to focus on their future financial commitments and budgeting.

Joint debts

The separation agreement delineates how joint debts will be allocated and managed. This involves a clear understanding of who is responsible for each debt and how the repayment will be handled during and after the separation. This safeguards both parties from potential financial disputes in the future. By taking a proactive approach, you can ensure a fair distribution of financial responsibilities, contributing to a smoother separation process.

Home and property decisions

The agreement addresses the pivotal question of what happens to the family home in a divorce. It defines whether one party will continue residing in it, and, if so, how mortgage or rent payments will be met and the terms of any lump sum payment to the other person now or in the future. Alternatively, if a decision to sell is on the horizon, the separation agreement can provide details of how the sale will be managed and how the sale proceeds will be divided.

Division of other assets

Considering how to divide other assets will typically involve making plans in respect of savings, investments, and any other property assets. The decision on what to do with items, such as cars or furniture, can also be determined in this section. It establishes clarity on the ownership and future disposition of such assets.

Child maintenance and support

Crucial for the well-being of both parties and any children involved, this section of the agreement outlines the terms for child maintenance payments. It addresses the financial support that one or both parties may provide during the separation, covering aspects like education, healthcare, and extracurricular activities.

Parental rights and responsibilities

In cases where children are involved, a separation agreement can address the matter of child arrangements, specifying where the children will live and the schedule for contact. It provides a clear agreement to simplify the complexities of co-parenting, prioritising the well-being of the children during and after the separation.

Parental responsibilities also extend to decision-making authority regarding the children's education, healthcare, and other significant aspects of their lives. The separation agreement aims to establish a cooperative approach to these decisions, fostering a harmonious co-parenting relationship. It’s recommended to draft a parenting plan to complement your separation agreement, either alongside it or as an appendix.

Should I use a mediator?

When contemplating a separation agreement, opting for a mediator can be highly beneficial. Mediation offers a neutral and facilitated environment for both parties to discuss and negotiate terms amicably. This approach promotes open communication, fostering a more cooperative atmosphere during a challenging time.

There are several benefits to using mediation:

  • Neutral ground: A mediator provides an unbiased space, ensuring equitable negotiations.
  • Open communication: Encourages open dialogue, allowing both parties to express their concerns and needs.
  • Cost-effective: Mediation is often more cost-effective than traditional legal routes, minimising financial strain.
  • Faster resolution: The collaborative nature of mediation typically leads to quicker resolution compared to adversarial legal processes.
  • Empowerment: Mediation allows both parties to actively participate in decision-making, empowering you with an understanding of your options in the process.

Choosing mediation reflects a commitment to a more cooperative and less adversarial separation. It is a viable option to explore, facilitating a more constructive approach to reaching mutually agreeable terms in your separation agreement.

When can you use a separation agreement?

1. When you’re married and divorcing

If you're married and considering divorce, but haven’t yet firmly decided, a separation agreement is beneficial. This will help you define financial responsibilities and other practical aspects to ensure a smooth transition, regardless of whether divorce follows.

As an example, consider a married couple contemplating divorce but not yet certain about proceeding. They opt for a separation agreement to navigate this uncertain period. The agreement helps them agree on financial responsibilities and other practical aspects, ensuring a smooth transition whether they decide to divorce or reconcile.

2. When you’re not married and separating

Unmarried but facing separation? A separation agreement helps where legal dissolution isn't possible, outlining financial arrangements and other matters, establishing a framework for a smooth separation.

As an example, consider a committed couple who are not legally married but facing separation. They use a separation agreement to address financial matters, especially if they are not currently eligible to legally dissolve their partnership. This agreement becomes a practical solution, allowing them to agree on financial obligations and navigate the complexities of separation.

Do you need a solicitor to write the separation agreement?

Seeking a solicitor's input for your separation agreement isn't mandatory, much like any other private contract, but is generally considered to be beneficial insofar as it enables each party to take independent legal advice. However, if concerns about adherence arise, a mediator can address them collaboratively, guiding productive discussions and fostering mutual agreement.

Choosing mediation for separation agreements is generally more cost-effective than using a solicitor, and often results in quicker resolutions. While solicitors provide valuable legal advice, considering mediation first can be a proactive step towards a smoother and more collaborative separation process.


Are separation agreements legally binding?

Technically, separation agreements are not legally binding. However, it is possible to make a separation agreement legally enforceable by having it turned into a consent order through the court system.

Learn more about making a mediation agreement legally binding.

Is a separation agreement needed for divorce?

A separation agreement is not a requirement in divorce. However, it can be a good option where a divorce is not on the cards providing better clarity on next steps and financial obligations. It also allows for a greater control over the outcome of the agreement, since the terms have been decided by yourself and your ex-partner, rather than restricted by the terms of what a court can order.

The agreement also helps couples plan ahead for life after the divorce, since the terms give a better idea of what your financial, co-parenting, housing situation may look like once separated.

Can a separation agreement be changed?

It’s possible to amend or change a separation agreement, but only on mutual agreement from both parties. As time passes, the original terms of the separation agreement may no longer address the needs of one or both parties. For instance, due to changing circumstances. In these cases, the separation agreement can be amended via mutual agreement, mediation, or by the court.

How long does a separation agreement last?

The separation agreement does not have an expiration date. However for married couples who subsequently divorce, the agreement may be replaced with a consent order.


In conclusion, a well-crafted separation agreement can be a helpful tool for navigating the complexities of divorce or separation. It provides clarity on financial responsibilities, asset division, and parental rights. While not legally binding, it can form the basis of a court-approved consent order. Whether married or not , a separation agreement helps plan for the future, offering control over the outcomes.

Your next step

Ready to take the next step? Enquire about mediation for personalised guidance in creating a separation agreement that suits your unique situation. Get in touch with our mediators today.

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