The first step to getting a divorce in North Carolina is to separate from your spouse. When you do this, you may wish to sign a separation agreement. While a separation agreement is not required for a separation and divorce, it can clarify everything from child custody to property division. A separation agreement lawyer can help you draw up this document so it is fair and you have the best possible outcome.
Separation Versus Divorce
In North Carolina, you have to go through a period known as “separation” before you file for divorce. This separation window must last for at least one year and one day. For a legal separation, your relationship must meet two requirements:
- You and your former partner live in separate homes
- At least one partner intends for the separation to be permanent
In short, if you want to get a divorce, one of you (or both of you) needs to move out of your current home. This can be financially straining, as well as cause upheaval for kids. A separation agreement can help, because it outlines the exact terms of the separation.
What to Include in Your Separation Agreement
For a separation agreement to be legal, it must be written rather than verbal, as well as signed and acknowledged. However, exactly what you include in your separation agreement is up to you and your former partner. Some common things to include in this contract include the following:
- Where children will live (i.e. who has physical custody)
- Who is responsible for bills regarding children, and if one party will pay child support to another
- If either party will pay alimony (spousal support)
- Who will move out and who will live at the family home
- How to divide marital property, such as cars, during the separation
- Who will be responsible for paying bills regarding property, such as a mortgage, utilities, debts, etc.
Do you Really Need a Separation Agreement Lawyer?
In short, no. You are not legally required to have an attorney for your separation agreement. However, because these agreements can be complex, it usually makes sense to hire a family law attorney during your separation.
We have experience helping people navigate separation agreements and negotiating for the best possible outcome. We’ll look at your case and be upfront with you about realistic outcomes based on our decades of experience. Then, we’ll negotiate on your behalf to make sure your separation papers are fair.
Remember, during a separation and divorce one lawyer cannot represent both you and your spouse. If you have an amicable separation, it might be tempting to have a single lawyer draw up the agreement for you both to sign. However, this is not in your best interest. Always have your own experienced divorce attorney look at any separation document before you sign it.
Spousal Support During a Separation
Spousal support, also called alimony, is when one partner financially supports another partner during a separation and for a period of time or indefinitely after a divorce. A judge typically grants spousal support when one spouse was the main breadwinner while the other took care of the home and children. However, you may qualify for spousal support in a number of different situations.
This is one topic we can cover during an initial meeting. We are always upfront with our clients about whether it is likely a judge will grant spousal support. Every situation is different.
You do not have to wait until you file for divorce to request spousal support. This can be part of a separation agreement. If your spouse doesn’t agree, you can still file for support, and a judge will determine if you are eligible.
Keep in mind that you need to file for spousal support before finalizing your divorce. With child support, you don’t have any kind of deadline other than the child’s age. You can file for support or custody until your child turns 18 (or up to age 20 if they are still in high school). However, once an absolute divorce is final, you can no longer file for spousal support even if your financial situation changes in the future.
FAQs About Separation and Divorce
Going through a separation can be tough on the whole family. We’re here to help. Our philosophy is to get you through to the other side with as little harm as possible. Every divorce is different, so we recommend coming in for an initial meeting to discuss the specifics of your case. However, here are a few key questions and answers to help you get started:
How will property be divided?
This depends on a number of factors including when the property/money was acquired, if it increased in value during the marriage, and what premarital agreements are in place. You and your former partner can decide how to divide assets by negotiating an agreement, or you can leave this to a judge to decide if you can’t come to an agreement.
Although the law presumes a 50/50 split of marital property is the fairest option, in practice this is not always what a judge decides. They take into account several factors including income of both parties, length of marriage, age/health, and more.
What if my spouse doesn’t want a divorce?
Only one party (you) needs to want a divorce for you to be eligible. After the required year-long separation, you can file the divorce paperwork and have your former partner served. They do not need to sign anything or even show up at court. We can help with this process to ensure your spouse received notice in the proper way.
If you want to learn more, contact us today. It often makes sense to use your separation agreement lawyer as your divorce lawyer as well, so a single person knows all the specifics of your case. We’d love to talk to you more about your separation and divorce to see if our team is a good fit for your legal needs.
Today, contact us at 336-203-9110.