22 Aug 16

Is our separation agreement still valid if we briefly reconciled?

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Maintaining a Separation Agreement With a Brief Reconciliation

Separation agreements are a halfway step in the process of divorce. Legally, courts favor them because 1) they reduce immediate divorce caseload processing, and 2) they test whether a married couple is really ready to have a legal dissolution of marriage, i.e. a divorce, once and for all. In short, the separation agreement tends to be a trial run before the big divorce hearing occurs.

However, separation agreements are fluid even though they seem quite formal, and the actual terms of these legal arrangements depend on the couple involved. Generally, a separation agreement represents a contract between two spouses who are still married but going through separation. They were originally created to sort out early the financial responsibilities like child support, custody, alimony, visitation rights, financial obligations and even protective orders if needed.

The binding effect of a separation agreement comes in the process of both spouses signing the document and agreeing to follow it, with their attorneys as witnesses. A separation agreement can’t bind everything; for example, a judge will overrule an agreement if the court sees it has harmful to the children in a marriage. However, because these agreements tend to straighten out most of the financial matters in everyday life between a separating couple, the terms frequently tend to migrate into the final divorce agreement and order when the court finalizes a divorce.

With regards to a brief reconciliation, how it affects a separation agreement depends on the actual terms that are in place. For example, if the agreement has a protective order included in it, a reconciliation could actually be a breach of the terms involving physical distance etc. However, if the agreement terms have no mention about a restriction or limitation of a consensual nature, then the agreement could in theory still be active and stay in place having no conflict with the temporary nature of a brief reconciliation.

What exactly counts as a reconciliation legally depends on the given state where the separation agreement is enforced. Clearly, a one-night stand is not going to be seen as a full-blown reconciliation. However, if a spouse moves back in, spends a number of weeks living like a normal marriage, and then there’s another argument and moves out, the extended period could be seen legally as a reconciliation. The ramifications come down to the terms and how the spouses behaved. For example, the value of assets and financial responsibilities could change after the brief reconciliation if it was long enough, resetting the financial figures originally agreed upon. The nuances are plenty, and the real answer of how they impact the given agreement really needs to be sorted out with the given spouse’s attorney as soon as possible.

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