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On Monday, May 3, 2021, Bill and Melinda Gates announced they were ending their marriage after 27 years.

Having kept their separation quiet until now, the pair have been working quietly behind the scenes with their lawyers to come to a separation contract, or a “Separation Agreement” as we call it in Ontario. The pair then filed for divorce with the court and asked the court to divide their property, business interests and assets as set forth in their separation contract.

As the fourth wealthiest person in the world, worth approximately $125 billion, Bill’s separation from Melinda must surely be one of the largest settlements in history. Though the details of their separation contract have not been made public, the Gates have clearly made use of the benefits of a Separation Agreement.

What is a Separation Agreement?

Most family law cases are settled by agreement between the parties without the need to go to court. In fact, recent changes to family law legislation have underscored the duty that parties and their lawyers are under to try to resolve family disputes outside of court. Generally, such a process will conclude with the drafting of a Separation Agreement. Once properly signed and witnessed, the agreement becomes a legally binding domestic contract under the Family Law Act.

A Separation Agreement sets out in writing how the parties agree to deal with the issues arising from their separation (and divorce, if applicable). It may cover property division, spousal support, child support and parenting issues, as well as many other topics. It then governs the parties’ interactions with and obligations and rights towards each other moving forward.

It is important to consult a lawyer when preparing and signing a Separation Agreement in order to ensure that your rights have been properly protected and that the agreement is executed in such a way that it will be enforceable.

What are the benefits of a Separation Agreement?

There are many benefits and advantages to resolving your issues by way of a Separation Agreement rather than going to court, including:

  • the process is generally faster and cheaper;
  • it is generally less stressful and emotionally draining because it is less adversarial than the court process;
  • agreements are primarily negotiated between the lawyers, who convey their client’s position, so the parties themselves need only interact rarely, if at all; and,
  • there is more flexibility to deviate from how the courts are required to decide the issues and to tailor your agreement and your settlement of the issues to your family’s unique needs.

Of course, negotiations can break down and resolving your issues by way of a Separation Agreement may not always be successful. In such a case, the parties may genuinely require the assistance of a judge to decide the issues that they cannot agree on and a court proceeding will need to be commenced.

Do you require assistance with a family law related issue?

Madison Goodacre is a lawyer in Siskinds’ Family Law Department. If you are going through a separation and would like to resolve your issues by way of a Separation Agreement, or if you need assistance with any other family law matter, please contact Madison by email.

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