“I just want to get it over with”: Rushing to sign a separation agreement can be costly
Divorce and common law separations can be complicated. It can take more time and cost more money than you expect, which is why separating couples often seek out ways to make the process easier and less demanding. One common way in which you might attempt to save time and money is by agreeing to settle all of the aspects of your separation between you and your ex-spouse – without getting lawyers involved. Once you finalize the agreement, one of the parties retain a lawyer to draft up the terms of the agreement in the form of a separation agreement. However, this method may lead to more cost and acrimony than you would initially expect.
If you or your ex-spouse want to finalize your divorce or common law separation through a separation agreement, here are some issues and warning signs to watch out for.
A rushed separation agreement may be an unfair one
It is crucial to be thorough when reviewing offers and agreements, which can be difficult if you are hoping to get through the process quickly. However, making a fair agreement takes time. As such, do not agree to something you do not understand or have not thought through in the interest of “getting it over with.”
It is important to navigate the process carefully and diligently:
- Read the whole agreement and any appendix attached to it;
- Know and understand all the terms of the agreement before signing;
- Do not be afraid to ask questions, even if you feel they are silly or obvious.
- Make sure you sign and retain copies of all your paperwork; and
Your ex-spouse might obtain legal advice on their own, expecting you to accept their lawyer’s explanation of what is a fair agreement. If your ex-spouse is pushing you to sign a separation agreement without giving you the opportunity to obtain legal advice, this is a warning sign that what they are asking you to agree to is ultimately not fair to you. Further, behaviour that escalates to frustration, anger, or even physical aggression should be a clear signal to you to step back and take additional time to consider what your ex-spouse is proposing.
Even if your ex-spouse suggests that you obtain independent legal advice regarding a separation agreement, a 1-2-hour appointment with a lawyer who you have met with mainly for the purpose of witnessing your signature may not be enough for you to be able to carefully consider your options. If you rush into an unfair agreement now, you may end up spending a significant amount of money, time, and energy trying to overturn the agreement later.
This is your life and your future; take the time to ensure you are informed.
Informal or verbal agreements are less likely to be enforced
If you are the one taking the lead on laying out the terms of your separation with your ex-spouse, it may seem faster and more cost-effective to make these arrangements informally and without lawyers. When separating couples create their own arrangements without legal guidance, especially arrangements made verbally, it will inevitably lead to miscommunication and disputes about what was actually agreed to. Without a court order or formal written agreement, courts are not likely to enforce verbal or informal arrangements made between parties when they have not obtained legal advice.
Instead, parties can utilize efficient – yet still valid – solutions. For instance, they can choose mediation over litigation, or they can secure temporary court orders until permanent orders are in place.
Full disclosure is vital to a fair agreement
During a divorce or separation, some people engage in deceitful behaviours because they think it will get them a better outcome or make the process easier. They might leave out financial information or otherwise violate financial disclosure laws, or they might be untruthful about the other person’s parenting abilities.
However, if you are untruthful in sworn legal documents, such as a Form 8 Financial Statement (Form 4 in Provincial Court), you can face serious financial penalties. Further, a previously uncontested divorce could become a contested divorce, which only adds more complexity and contention to the situation.
If you are being asked by your ex-spouse to enter into a separation agreement without legal advice or with limited legal advice, please contact Henderson Heinrichs LLP immediately to set up your free 30-minute consultation. Our lawyers are here to help you carefully consider your options.