Cohesin is a protein complex that is required to hold sister chromatids together. Cleavage of the Scc1 subunit of cohesin by the protease separase releases the complex from chromosomes and thereby enables the separation of sister chromatids in anaphase. In vertebrate cells, the bulk of cohesin dissociates from chromosome arms already during prophase and prometaphase without cleavage of Scc1. Polo-like kinase 1 (Plk1) and Aurora-B are required for this dissociation process, and Plk1 can phosphorylate the cohesin subunits Scc1 and SA2 in vitro, consistent with the possibility that cohesin phosphorylation by Plk1 triggers the dissociation of cohesin from chromosome arms. However, this hypothesis has not been tested yet, and in budding yeast it has been found that phosphorylation of Scc1 by the Polo-like kinase Cdc5 enhances the cleavability of cohesin, but does not lead to separase-independent dissociation of cohesin from chromosomes. To address the functional significance of cohesin phosphorylation in human cells, we have searched for phosphorylation sites on all four subunits of cohesin by mass spectrometry. We have identified numerous mitosis-specific sites on Scc1 and SA2, mutated them, and expressed nonphosphorylatable forms of both proteins stably at physiological levels in human cells. The analysis of these cells lines, in conjunction with biochemical experiments in vitro, indicate that Scc1 phosphorylation is dispensable for cohesin dissociation from chromosomes in early mitosis but enhances the cleavability of Scc1 by separase. In contrast, our data reveal that phosphorylation of SA2 is essential for cohesin dissociation during prophase and prometaphase, but is not required for cohesin cleavage by separase. The similarity of the phenotype obtained after expression of nonphosphorylatable SA2 in human cells to that seen after the depletion of Plk1 suggests that SA2 is the critical target of Plk1 in the cohesin dissociation pathway.