Often when we meet clients and discuss the fees associated with litigating all divorce related issues, it can be an awakening experience. A good portion of preparing to litigate spousal support, child support and equitable distribution issues is procuring and reviewing important financial documents. Courts are overflowing with cases and it’s not uncommon to wait 4+ months before your case is heard after discovery is concluded. In many counties, you must engage in mandatory mediation prior to going to trial which requires you to pay your attorney plus half of the mediator fees for a process which generally lasts a minimum of 4-5 hours. However, settling your matter via separation agreement can save the you time and money that otherwise could end up being spent on legal fees.
A separation agreement is a contract voluntarily entered into between spouses, signed by the parties and notarized. The parties can legally document their intention to live separate and apart and the dissolution of their marriage. They are extremely flexible. You can resolve divorce related claims such as child custody, child support, equitable distribution, and alimony or you can resolve some issues and litigate what you’re unable to resolve. In summary, if you and your spouse can meet civilly and come up with a settlement framework on key issues, a separation agreement is the way to go.
There are several other issues a separation agreement can address. For example, parents can agree to their children’s religious upbringing, who should be designated to care for a domestic pet, or any related consideration tailored to your family’s needs. Parents can agree on how to split expenses not covered under North Carolina law, such as college tuition and living expenses for older children.
Many people believe that they have to file some form of paperwork in order to make their separation legal. That is inaccurate. In reality, only one person in the relationship must intend to end the marital relationship. Furthermore, the parties must live separate and apart in different households. These two requirements are essential for a married couple to be considered “separated.” A separation agreement is a great way to establish a date of separation in writing for the purposes of evaluating property and determining when you’re eligible to finalize your divorce.
It is important to note that neither party should be influenced or forced to sign an agreement. We want to stress the absolutely voluntary nature of this option. While a separation agreement generally does not become a court order, it is considered a contract under North Carolina law. Therefore, parties can depend on contract law and remedies under contract law to ensure compliance of the agreement. Parties may choice to file a breach of contract action against the opposing party if the opposing party is in violation of the agreement’s terms.
If you think you need a separation agreement drafted or if your spouse has given you a separation agreement to review, consult with an attorney prior to signing the agreement. It’s a binding contract with after effects that could have dramatic impact and result in the loss of legal rights and claims.
Contact our Raleigh law offices today to discuss with us whether a separation agreement is an appropriate way to resolve your marital dispute. We want the very best for you, whatever decision is made.
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