Divorce is not for every couple in Buffalo. Some people object to divorce for religious or personal reasons, but no longer wish to live with their spouse. Others are considering divorce, but want to live apart for a while first, perhaps while working with their spouse to try to repair their marriage.

Of course, a spouse can move to a separate home, but that provides the spouse virtually no legal protections. For example, if one of the spouses does not earn an income, the other may promise to provide spousal support. But he or she could change his or her mind and stop paying. That could leave the other spouse in dire financial straits.

New York State law provides a third marital status option between “married” and “unmarried.” It is called legal separation. Being legally separated gives each spouse enforceable rights and responsibilities. In the above example, instead of having little recourse, the spouse receiving maintenance could go to court to force the other spouse to pay.

To become legally separated, the spouses must create a “separation agreement.” This is a contract in which both parties agree on matters such as where the children will live, visitation time, who will pay the bills, division of property and so on.

No separation agreement is valid until both spouses sign it in the presence of a notary. However, they need not sign it at the same time. It takes effect immediately after the spouses have signed it, and it can be filed at the county clerk’s office.

As with any important contract, a poorly written separation agreement can cause big problems later. It is generally a good idea to have a family law attorney help you.