A “legal separation”…

This is one of the most frequently requested services by incoming clients or individuals seeking information to help them move forward with a separation. They have been led to believe that they need to do something to make their separation “legal”. And they want me to help by signing off on something they cobbled together from the internet.

The plethora of self-help contracts on the internet which contain law, guidance and information from many different provinces and states only serve to confuse the issue for people at the time of separation.

So what, then, is a “legal” separation? And does it vary from place to place?

Many people are surprised to learn that there is no such thing as a “legal” separation. There is nothing “illegal” about separation. But each province in Canada, as well as the federal jurisdiction, has its own legislative requirements to deal with separation, support, property, parenting, as do the different states in America.

Relying on internet contracts without a consultation with a local lawyer is a recipe for serious problems, particularly in Alberta.

There are many laws which affect people when they marry, or live together in a marriage like relationship (a joint family venture). On separation, ending the application of those laws in a given family situation requires the parties to reach some agreements – or a court to order the terms of a dissolution, in the absence of agreements.

When people reach agreements outside of court, those agreements in Alberta are enforceable only if they are placed into a written agreement. These agreements have many different names, such as a contract, or Minutes of Settlement, or Divorce Agreement, or Divorce and Matrimonial Property Agreement. In Alberta, if the agreements concern matrimonial property, they must be signed by each of the parties in front of their own independent lawyer, separate and apart from their spouse at the time of the signing. Lawyers require proof of exchange of full financial disclosure between the parties before signing these contracts.

This is the document most lay people are thinking of when they look for information about “the legal separation”.