Can you settle your divorce issues between yourselves?

Ontario couples who are considering divorce do not always have to let the courts decide the terms of their split. In fact, many couples choose to devise their own separation agreements.

If you and your soon-to-be ex are capable of civility and negotiation, collaborating on your divorce likely makes the most sense. The two of you will need to come up with an equitable distribution of assets and debts, agree on custody and child support arrangements, and in some circumstances, decide which spouse will continue living in the former marital home.

Once you have reached accord, you can choose to keep your arrangements informal, either by writing out the plan or discussing it verbally. But most couples like to formalize their separation agreements by signing it in the presence of a witness. At that point, the agreement is a legal contract that must be honoured, so it is vital that prior to affixing your signatures to the document, both parties have consulted a divorce lawyer regarding the matter.

The courts are reluctant to alter previously agreed-upon separation agreements between divorcing couples, but there can be valid reasons to petition the court for changes. If one spouse was not forthcoming about marital debts or assets or under-reported his or her income, the Ontario courts could toss out the agreement and make a new ruling.

In cases where there was abuse in the marriage, drawing up your own agreement is not usually wise. Some couples manage to agree on the terms except for a sole issue like child custody. When that happens, a mediator can often work with both parties until a workable compromise is reached.

Source: Ministry of the Attorney General, “What You Should Know About Family Law in Ontario,” accessed June 17, 2016

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