A Separation Agreement can be an useful and efficient way to settle all issues related to a divorce, such as property distribution, alimony, child custody and child support–without having to go through the Court. It is simply a legally binding contract between the spouses. If a spouse does not follow the terms of the Separation Agreement, the other spouses’s legal remedy is to sue for breach of contract. The spouse can ask the Court to award money damages (ask the spouse to re-pay what is owed) or order the non-complying spouse to specifically perform the terms of the Agreement (do what the contract requires the spouse to do). If, after being told to perform the terms of the Agreement, the non-complying spouse does not comply, the Court can hold that person in contempt of Court. Many people feel like negotiating a separation agreement is less expensive and faster than going to court and getting a court order.
A Court Order is when the parties go through the Court system (starting with someone filing a lawsuit), and a judge enters an order of the Court. The parties can either agree on the terms of the order and have a judge sign it (called a consent order), or the judge can decide the terms of the order after a court hearing. If a party does not comply with terms of the Court Order, the non-complying party can be held in contempt of Court and can face numerous penalties, including jail time. Parties often go through the Court when they are not able to agree on the terms of a separation agreement or when they think they may want to be able to enforce their agreement by contempt (and not breach of contract).