What is a Separation Agreement?

Signing legal separation form in NC

A separation agreement is a legal contract between a husband and wife, addressing issues that arise when a couple decides to divorce such as child custody, child support, responsibility for paying monthly bills and debts, spousal support and distribution of property.

You are not required to have a separation agreement to obtain a divorce in North Carolina. But, if a couple can reach a separation agreement through mediation or negotiation, it can spell out the responsibilities of each party and make for a smoother transition while preparing for divorce.

You should always have an experienced family law attorney draft a separation agreement, and review any documents prepared by your spouse’s attorney. Your attorney can negotiate the agreement on your behalf and make sure you understand the terms of the agreement before you sign it. Hiring an experienced Raleigh separation agreement attorney from Younce, Vtipil, Baznik & Banks will allow us to put our family law experience to work on your behalf.

For help with your separation agreement, call a Raleigh separation agreement lawyer at (919) 661-9000, or fill out our online form today.

What Are the Common Parts of a Separation Agreement?

The common elements of a separation agreement in North Carolina include:

  • Marital residence: If both parties own the home together, a separation agreement can specify who gets ownership of the house after the divorce, the price one spouse would pay to the other in exchange for ownership of the property.
  • Personal property: A separation and property settlement agreement may specify who receives marital assets and property such as cars, furniture, bonds, electronics, stocks, and savings accounts.
  • Child custody and child support: If there are children involved, there are clear guidelines for physical and legal custody, visitation, child support payments, and additional decisions related to these situations.
  • Debt distribution: The agreement can cover which party is liable for specific debts both current and future.
  • Alimony: The agreement can address the amount of spousal support payments, how long the payments will continue, and the frequency of payments.

Once signed, a separation agreement can be enforced by court order, if necessary. You can go to court and file a lawsuit asking the court to find that your spouse or ex failed to comply with the terms of the separation agreement. The court can order your spouse to comply with the terms of the separation agreement.

Is a Separation Agreement Required in Order to File for Divorce?

A separation agreement is not required to legally separate. However, you should strongly consider it.

Negotiating an agreement that both spouses sign allows you to have more input on important decisions regarding the dissolution of your marriage rather than having a family law court make decisions for you. When there is a clear plan in place, it’s easier to avoid disputes as the divorce gets finalized.

While a separation agreement isn’t necessary, you must be legally separated for at least one year before you’re able to file for divorce in North Carolina. When it comes time to apply for a divorce, both parties must state, under oath, that their separation lasted more than one year.

If neither person disputes the other’s statement, that is sufficient for a legal separation. However, if one person challenges the separation date, you might need to provide physical evidence to prove when the separation began.

A legal separation begins the second one spouse moves into a different residence to live apart permanently. It’s not necessary to fill out forms or file anything with the court as long as you meet the following criteria:

  • Each spouse lives in a separate home.
  • At least one party must intend to separate. Both people don’t need to agree to the separation, as long as they each maintain their own homes.
  • The legal separation must last for at least one year before filing for divorce is allowed.

Living under the same roof but sleeping in different bedrooms does not qualify as a legal separation in North Carolina. One person needs to move to a different residence.

If you’re wondering how to file for legal separation in NC, you must follow these steps:

  1. Move into separate households
  2. Avoid reconciling with your spouse
  3. Negotiate terms of the future divorce
  4. Hire a separation agreement attorney in Raleigh, NC to draft the document

Some situations warrant a court-ordered separation known in North Carolina as a Divorce from Bed and Board. Despite the word divorce being in the name, it’s not a divorce. Instead, it’s a form of legal separation ordered by a judge if there is a finding of fault against the spouse named in the petition. The party seeking Divorce from Bed and Board must prove their spouse committed at least one of the following actions:

  • Abandonment
  • Adultery
  • The abuse of alcohol or drugs
  • Malicious turning out-of-doors (unjustified physical or emotional neglect)
  • Cruel or barbarous treatment
  • Indignities rendering the victim’s condition intolerable or life burdensome

What are the Advantages of a Legal Separation Agreement in NC?Living separately in NC

To qualify for legal separation in North Carolina, you must reside in separate homes and intend to stay that way permanently. If you still live under the same roof, plan to separate temporarily, or regularly go out in public together, you’re not legally separated.

If you’re thinking when and how to file for legal separation in North Carolina, it’s an overwhelming feeling. Thinking about legal documents and negotiating time with your spouse is unsettling. An experienced divorce attorney can guide you through the process of negotiating a separation agreement. If your spouse refused to sign the agreement, you will need to file a lawsuit in court.

Some of the advantages of couples creating a separation agreement include:

  • Avoid protracted litigation: Battling in court is time-consuming, stressful, and costly. If there’s a separation agreement in place, you’ll avoid disputes over issues that come up during your divorce negotiations. With a separation agreement, you and your spouse agree on the terms of the separation rather than leaving the decisions to the court.
  • Keep matters private: All court documents relating to divorce are public record. If there’s already a signed agreement, many issues can be resolved privately.
  • Save time and money: Divorces can drag out for months, or even years. The legal fees may reach tens of thousands of dollars. Negotiating a separation agreement ahead of time cuts future legal costs and reduces the time you spend discussing your marital issues.
  • Spare emotional distress: The emotional and psychological effects of divorce are significant. That’s why divorce consistently ranks at number 2 as one of the most stressful life events. Negotiating a separation agreement ahead of your divorce can prevent you from being blindsided by your spouse’s decisions.

Filing a legal separation agreement form is extremely beneficial for any couple interested in an amicable split. However, there are challenges you could face. They are:

  • Due to the legal nature of drafting this kind of document, you are negotiating with your spouse the division of assets, property, alimony, and custody. It requires a certain amount of cooperation between the two sides. This can be challenging if you and your spouse have difficulty communicating.
  • You may go through the time-consuming process of trying to hammer out a separation agreement and still have to ask the court to intervene, if your spouse refuses to sign the agreement or cooperate.
  • If you’re considering a temporary split as an indicator of the outcome of your relationship, an informal separation could benefit you rather than filing the documents.

How Can a Separation Agreement Attorney Help?

Separation and divorce bring up many complicated issues. It’s advisable to hire a family law attorney to assist you in preparing a separation agreement. You will need an attorney in any of the following situations:

  • Your partner does not want a divorce
  • Your priorities and goals are drastically different from your spouse’s
  • You’re unsure about your marital assets and their value
  • You believe you’re at a disadvantage in negotiations for any reason
  • There are hotly disputed issues like the division of property, child custody and visitation, and support

Hiring a separation agreement attorney will ensure that your rights are protected. When you hire Younce, Vtipil, Baznik & Banks to represent you, we will be ready to put our experience to work for you.

Our state-of-the-art case tracking system allows our team to effectively handle each client’s case, so nothing falls through the cracks. We believe in the importance of quality client service. When you work with our separation agreement attorney in Raleigh, NC, you’ll receive the personal attention you deserve.

We will be ready to schedule a confidential consultation immediately. Our staff members are fluent in both English and Spanish for your convenience. For help with your separation agreement in NC, call us at (919) 661-9000, or fill out our online form today.