Separation agreement (2023)

What is a separation agreement?

When a relationship ends and partners go their own ways, there can be a great deal of uncertainty as to who will pay previously joint bills, how possessions and assets will be split, and who will look after the children.

For married couples, an agreement like this one (sometimes called a deed of separation) provides certainty as to how each person will live while a divorce is being settled.

It is also suitable for:

  • civil partners separating in expectation of dissolution of the partnership
  • unmarried couples who own property and other assets together (and perhaps who have children together)
  • couples and partners who want to live apart yet remain married or in a civil partnership

This document provides both parties with a degree of protection and certainty in what would otherwise be a very uncertain time.

You should note that no separation agreement is binding in law in the same way that a commercial contract would be. A judge still has the authority to change any of the arrangements, whether your agreement is based on our template or is written for you by your solicitor. However, if fair to both sides, it is unlikely that a judge would vary this agreement when making a court order. We explain more about the current legal status of agreements further down this page.

Why use a written agreement

There are a number of reasons to use a written deed of separation:

Avoid additional stress and worry

Even if you break up amicably, your life changes enormously. You can gain some certainty - or at least reduce uncertainty - by sorting out who owns what and what each side owes the other or has continuing responsibility for.

Prevent future arguments

Recording what you agree in writing creates evidence of what you intended to happen when you split up. Once he or she has signed a formal agreement, it is more difficult for your partner to argue that he or she did not agree to something.

Save time and money on solicitors

Solicitors can be good negotiators and can offer good advice on entitlements, but there is nothing in this type of document that requires legal knowledge or a solicitor. This separation agreement achieves much the same as a solicitor would do for you after a few meetings.

Unless you want a solicitor for another reason (such as legal advice), you can save time and money by completing this separation agreement template yourself instead of asking him or her to do it for you at a high hourly cost.

It could form the basis of a consent order in divorce

If you can demonstrate that the agreement has worked well for a period of time, a judge is very likely to let it form the basis of a consent agreement in divorce proceedings (or when dissolving a civil partnership).

Keep the relationship amicable

Court proceedings while getting divorced inevitably become acrimonious. There is a much greater chance of keeping your future relationship friendly (and agreeing a split that suits both parties, keeping joint friends and making access to children easier) if you can work out together the details of the separation before you reach a court.

A deed of separation can make the divorce process easier, faster and less stressful because many of the difficult things have been agreed already.

The current status of separation agreements

A separation agreement is not legally binding in the same way as a commercial contract. The Court still has complete discretion to make a consent order in different terms to any previous agreement.

However, when or if you do have to go to court for separation proceedings, it is likely that the judge will make an order (which will be legally binding of course) in the terms of your agreement provided:

  • the agreement is fair
  • you both worked on the agreement without pressure and entered into it by your own free will
  • you both had adequate knowledge of the situation
  • there have been no overlooked or unforeseen changes in circumstances since it was signed
  • it covers all your assets after full disclosure

The extent to which a judge will stay with the agreement reflects the level of his or her acceptance of the above three points.

If one of you is in breach of the deed of separation and the other goes to court to enforce it, the judge will make an assessment as described above and will enforce the agreement to the extent that he feels is right.

For more information, read our article explaining why and when to use an agreement to record your separation.

Arrangements for care and access to children

Within any separation agreement, children arrangements have no legal standing at all.

The court will take no account of what you have agreed in terms of child support but will start afresh in considering the interest of each child.

Of course, if a satisfactory child arrangements are already in place (which may include any of child maintenance payments, child custody and visitation schedules) it is likely that the judge will order that the arrangement should remain undisturbed.

So it is always worth making arrangements for your children because it is bound to be in their interests to have a secure and firm framework for their lives.

Completing the template yourself

This straightforward separation contract is easy to complete. You don't need to involve solicitors or go to court.

First, you should discuss at a high level what you both want before starting divorce or dissolution proceedings. You may have already separated from each other. One spouse is likely to have different reasons for wanting a certain split to the other.

Next, you should each draw up a list of assets. This deed of separation provides for detailed disclosure, but we have no way of knowing every category of thing you might own. We suggest that you consider carefully what other assets you might have and make sure they are disclosed and accounted for.

You may need to instruct experts (such as an accountant and/or a surveyor) to value financial and physical joint assets if you can't agree on a fair price yourselves.

Also consider joint debts, such as your mortgage, overdrafts and credit cards.

For more information read our article on what your agreement should include.

You may also want to consider how to deal with the loss of intangible benefits of marriage, such as tax benefits or joint life insurance provided as an employee benefit to one of you.

This template provides for you to set down your exact arrangements for your children. Although not binding on the Court, your written agreement together will reduce the risk of future disagreement, as will all other aspects of your lives. If possible, your arrangements for child support should go further than simply day to day child custody and child maintenance payments. If you can show the court how you and your ex partner will provide for all needs of your children, your arrangements are more likely to be accepted.

Obtaining 'sign-off' from a solicitor

The separation agreement is made once it has been signed by both parties. You do not need to involve a solicitor or any third party, nor do you need to register the document anywhere. There are no additional fees to pay.

Solicitors often advise that each party obtains independent legal advice before signing. The reason for this is not that a separation agreement is only legally binding if advice has been given, but rather that legal advice removes the risk that the other of you later claims that he or she was not aware of the implications of the agreement, or was coerced or pressured into signing it.

Our view on whether you need to take legal advice is that it you should decide after weighing up the risks versus the cost. If your separation is amicable (which is likely if you both agree to writing an agreement yourselves), the benefit of legal advice is likely to be reduced. Then you also should consider the value of your property, money and other possessions.

Should you use a free separation agreement template?

If you are considering writing your agreement yourselves, the difference in cost between a free separation agreement and a paid one is minimal compared to the alternative of having one prepared by a firm of solicitors.

A good solicitor is likely to charge several thousand pounds for advice and preparation of an agreement (or review of a draft prepared by another law firm). Your ex partner is also likely to face similar costs.

A free sample separation agreement can be very useful to help prompt you as to what you need to agree. However, it needs to cover all the points relevant to you.

We regularly review what is available to ensure that our template covers everything all others do.

Contents of our separation agreement template

The separation agreement template includes paragraphs that cover:

  • Details of the parties, including the separation date
  • Details of any children, if applicable
  • Arrangements for the disposal of the family home by sale, or
  • An option for one party to keep the matrimonial home and be bought out by the other
  • Payment of outgoings such as bills and other expenses – who will pay
  • Division of assets and funds, and other personal possessions and household property
  • Assignment of insurance policies (you may additionally need: a deed of assignment for alife insurance or endowment policy)
  • Division of business property
  • Maintenance (periodic) payments for the spouse and any children
  • Lump-sum payments
  • Conclusion of joint accounts
  • Child access and support arrangements
  • Parental rights arrangements

A sample of the template and our guidance notes can be seen by clicking on the picture of the document at the top of this page.


What makes a separation agreement unconscionable? ›

The first is if a spouse signed under duress. This means that if the spouse was forced to sign through the threat of violence. The second is that the agreement is deemed unconscionable. This means that the person who signed was not of sound mind.

What is the key to success in separation? ›

Communicate with your partner effectively. Steady and effective communication is a vital component that determines the quality of any relationship. But communicating with your spouse during separation is essential as well. Communicate with each other effectively and grow together in love.

What issues would you want to make sure are covered in a separation agreement? ›

Consider each issue carefully:
  • Where you will live. Legally separated spouses must live separately at all times.
  • Spousal support. ...
  • Custody. ...
  • Visitation schedules. ...
  • Child support. ...
  • Any additional costs for children. ...
  • Your home. ...
  • Other property.

Are separation agreements negotiable? ›

But, listen, if you're being laid off and your employer offers you a severance package, you may be able to negotiate its terms-- things like when your employment officially ends, how long you'll be paid or have benefits, compensation for unused vacation days, access to career resources, and residential visa support.

What are the 3 options one can do if the contract is found unconscionable? ›

Unconscionable Contract Remedies

Such options include: Voiding the entire contract. Voiding part of the contract. Having the party modify specific terms in the contract.

What are the grounds for unconscionability? ›

Overview. Unconscionability is determined by examining the circumstances of the parties when the contract was made, such as their bargaining power, age, and mental capacity. Other issues might include lack of choice, superior knowledge, and other obligations or circumstances surrounding the bargaining process.

What is a separation checklist? ›

Separation Planning Checklist

Typically, this type of checklist addresses decision-making about how both parties continue to function within the family. It contains items in every part of your life that will be affected by the separation.

Does separation agreement always lead to divorce? ›

A legal separation does not have to lead to divorce. Couples often use the time to work on their marriage without the thought of divorce and court dates hanging over their heads.

What should be included in a separation letter? ›

The letter should confirm the reason for ending employment, offer useful information about the termination (such as information on unemployment benefits or options for continuing health coverage), set out the reasons for the separation, and provide a statement of company property for the employee to return.

How long does it take to negotiate a separation agreement? ›

If the lawyer determines you have legal claims to assert, the time period to conclude a severance negotiation may last from two to four weeks, depending on the circumstances. Above all, you need to remember, this is a transaction involving your investment of time and money, not emotions.

What is a typical severance package? ›

Severance pay is usually based on the number of years you've worked at your employer. Generally, you'll get one week to four weeks of pay per year of service, but it is common for employers to pay out two weeks of pay for each year at the company. Of course, every company differs in calculating total severance pay.

What voids a severance agreement? ›

Fraud, misrepresentation, duress, or unconscionability are common defenses you can use if you want to void a severance agreement that you already signed.

What are the elements that must be shown to prove that a contract is unconscionable? ›

To prove unconscionability, one party to the contract must have had almost no choice but to agree to the terms of the agreement, along with terms that are highly unfavorable to that party.

What is an unconscionable agreement? ›

Unconscionable is an adjective that means without a conscience; unscrupulous; so unfair or unjust that it shocks the conscience. The adjective is frequently used in the context of contract law for contracts that have grossly oppressive and unfair terms. When a court finds a contract unconscionable, it is unenforceable.

What does unconscionable mean in a divorce? ›

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the term “unconscionable” means: 1) not guided or controlled by guidance; 2) shockingly unfair or unjust.

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