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A woman signs an agreement.

The end of a relationship is never easy and going to family court can be stressful. If you are going through a separation or divorce, you should ideally look for ways to resolve issues arising from the breakdown of your marriage as quickly and painlessly as possible.

A written separation agreement can be a very effective way to get to a resolution so you can both move on with your lives. Despite the many potential benefits, one spouse may refuse to participate in negotiations or may negotiate a separation agreement and then refuse to sign it. In today’s blog post, our divorce lawyer will discuss what happens if a spouse will not sign a separation agreement.

What is a separation agreement?

A separation agreement is a legally binding contract that stipulates how spouses will handle various issues arising from the breakdown of their marriage, including but not limited to living arrangements, division of property, child support and parenting arrangements. As a legally binding contract, a separation agreement is enforceable by law should one of the spouses fail to fulfill their obligations. However, a separation agreement is not legally binding until it has been signed by both spouses and properly witnessed.

What if my spouse refuses to negotiate with me?

You can not force your spouse to negotiate with you if they are not willing to do so. There are many reasons why your spouse may not be willing to discuss issues arising from your marriage directly with you. It could be due to emotional issues such as fear, anger or sadness. It may be that you and your spouse are not amicable and can not talk without fighting. Or your spouse’s reluctance may be because they do not have a good understanding of their rights and obligations. There can also be good reasons why you may not want to negotiate directly with them such as a history of domestic violence.

Whatever the reason, you simply cannot force your spouse to hash things out with you on an informal basis. You can, however, use other methods to get your spouse to participate in the process or “come to the table” to work toward a resolution:

  1. Hire a divorce lawyer. An experienced divorce lawyer can smooth tensions, facilitate negotiations, and protect your rights. Things tend to get moving and stay moving when an experienced and reasonable family lawyer is involved.

  2. Suggest mediation. A professional divorce mediator can help spouses settle disagreements, reach an amicable and fair separation agreement and stay out of the BC courts.

  3. Initiate the collaborative divorce process. Each spouse hires a collaborative divorce lawyer separately, then both parties agree to resolve their issues without going to court. A collaborative divorce allows the spouses to have equal input to move forward in the divorce process amicably.

What if my spouse won’t sign the separation agreement?

What happens if you put in the work, got an agreement in writing but your spouse refuses to sign it? They may refuse to sign because they do not understand the legal implications of the agreement. They may be feeling pressured, coerced, confused or too emotional. They may simply be being difficult or trying to drag out the process.

Regardless of the reason, you ca not force your spouse to sign a separation agreement even if they fully participated in the negotiations that led to the agreement being drafted. What you can do—if you haven’t already—is explore the three options set out above. An experienced family lawyer can discuss the mechanics of each of those options and advise you on which are recommended in your situation.

Your separation lawyer may also suggest looking at arbitration or hybrid mediation-arbitration (“med-arb”). In arbitration, you and your spouse hire a family law arbitrator. The arbitrator is neutral. Their job is to listen to evidence and your arguments, then make decisions that resolve your family law issues, just like a judge would.

Lastly, you can go to family court to resolve issues if your spouse refuses to negotiate or sign a separation agreement. While you may want to avoid litigation, it may be exactly what is needed to get things moving. If you start a court case and serve legal documents on your spouse this  will get their attention. If they fail to file a response in the time allotted by the court rules, you can move for default judgement against them.

It is important to understand that starting family law proceedings does not necessarily mean you will have to go all the way to a trial. There are many opportunities for formal and informal negotiations after you file a Notice of Family Claim to start your case. The vast majority of family court cases settle by way of a separation agreement or consent order without the need for a trial.

Protect yourself with trusted legal advice from a BC separation agreement lawyer

Valerie M. Little Law Corporation is a BC family law firm that has helped thousands of individuals going through separation or divorce. Let Valerie ease your stress by helping you reach a resolution with your ex-spouse. She can then incorporate the agreed upon terms into a legal and binding separation agreement. Valerie has many years of experience as a BC separation lawyer and works with a qualified and compassionate team to ensure you get the best possible service.

Valerie M. Little Law Corporation is a family law firm centrally located in New Westminster and serves all of Burnaby, Port Moody, Maple Ridge, Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam, Vancouver, North Vancouver, West Vancouver, Squamish, Whistler, Richmond, Surrey, Cloverdale, Delta and Langley.

To schedule your confidential appointment, call 604-526-3333 or email her today.



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