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How separation contracts work in Washington

Any couple in Washington whose marriage is going through separation or ending in divorce, or whose domestic partnership is dissolving, has the option to execute a separation contract that will help settle contentious issues between the parties. This type of contract sets out the obligation of both parties with respect to each other at the end of the relationship and afterward.

Separation contracts establish how assets and liabilities incurred during the relationship will be divided and whether maintenance will be paid by one spouse or partner to the other. The contracts can also specify both parties' rights and obligations with respect to their children.

If a couple wants to live separately without a legal separation decree from a court, they can enter into a separation contract and give public notice in a community newspaper that announces their decision to live apart.

Except for child custody and other elements of parenting plans, every term in a separation contract will be binding on both parties even after any divorce petition is filed. Final child custody arrangements are always made by the court. If during a proceeding for divorce a court finds that the terms of the contract were unfair when it was executed, then a judge can establish different orders regarding child and spousal support and the division of assets.

The terms of the contract are usually set forth in a court decree, and these terms can be enforced by either party under law. However, the rights and obligations of both parties with respect to children will be specifically mentioned in the decree.

A separation contract can be terminated at any time by mutual agreement. Once executed, they usually become part of any later divorce decree, so it is essential that they are thoroughly negotiated and well-drafted before they are executed.

Source: Leg.WA.gov, "Separation Contracts," Accessed on April 23, 2015

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