What Happens When Spouses Reconcile after Separation?

What Happens When Spouses Reconcile after Separation?

When spouses reconcile in North Carolina after a separation, there can be major repercussions. Reconciliation occurs when spouses resume the marital relationship. N.C. Gen. Stat. 52-10.2 defines resumption of the marital relationship as a “voluntary renewal of the husband and wife relationship, as shown by the totality of the circumstances.” Several factors make up the “totality of the circumstances,” including:

  1. The spouses’ intent;
  2. The spouses’ overall actions;
  3. If the spouses resume and continue an intimate relationship;
  4. If the spouses start sharing marital responsibilities;
  5. If the spouses hold themselves out as married during their separation;
  6. The length of the alleged reconciliation;
  7. How the spouses treated marital property and finances during the alleged reconciliation; and
  8. The living situation of the spouses and if they maintained separate residences during the alleged reconciliation.

A good example of what reconciliation looks like in North Carolina is Casella v. Estate of Casella. In that case, the court decided the parties reconciled after their separation. The totality of the circumstances showed the spouses slept in the same bed, the wife assumed responsibility for the care of her husband until he passed, the spouses told others they reconciled, and a large amount of property passed to the wife outside of her husband’s will.

However, N.C. Gen. Stat. 52-10.2 makes it clear spouses don’t resume the marital relationship if they only engage in “isolated incidents of sexual intercourse” after they separate. But because life is messy, it can be tricky to tell the difference between isolated incidents of sexual intercourse and a full resumption of the marital relationship.

The court must look at the totality of the circumstances. Fletcher v. Fletcher provides a good example of this process.

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In Fletcher, the court decided the parties didn’t resume the marital relationship—they only engaged in isolated incidents of sexual intercourse.  In that case, the spouses spent about four hours together on six separate evenings in the former marital home eating dinner and spending time with the children.  They also had three or four “isolated acts” of sexual intercourse. But the wife continued to maintain her separate home and never moved back into the former marital home. These incidents occurred for a short period—about a week, and there was no evidence either spouse held themselves out as husband and wife or indicated to others they resolved their issues and were getting back together.

Effect of Reconciliation

Generally, if spouses reconcile after they execute a separation agreement, it won’t affect the property settlement terms. So, if you and your spouse get back together after entering into a separation agreement and have already transferred title to the house to your spouse, it will remain in your spouse’s name. Spousal support payments work a little differently. A reconciliation will end the supporting spouse’s obligation to make spousal support payments.

It’s important to note, a separation agreement is not revived after a future separation—meaning, if you separate again, you can’t use the same separation agreement.  You’ll have to execute a new one since the old one won’t have any force or effect.

In North Carolina, you can get a no-fault divorce one year after the date of separation. If you and your spouse reconcile and later separate, you’ll have to wait a year from your new date of separation. The clock starts over as of your new separation date.  While your new date of separation affects when you can get divorced, it also affects your property distribution rights. A new date of separation can have major consequences for property that you haven’t distributed yet.  For example, if you and your spouse reconcile after a separation and you win the lottery during your reconciliation, it’s likely your spouse will receive a portion of those funds if you separate again later down the road.  That wouldn’t be the case if you remained separated before winning the lottery.

Reconciliation Agreements

As of June 19, 2013, spouses can enter into “reconciliation agreements” during a period of separation.  Reconciliation agreements are contracts that waive, release, or establish rights and obligations to postseparation support, alimony, or spousal support.

To be valid, a reconciliation agreement must:

  • Be entered during a valid period of separation;
  • Be in writing;
  • Clearly state the provision waiving the rights or obligations in the agreement; and
  • Contain both spouses’ notarized signatures.

If you and your spouse enter into a valid reconciliation agreement, the terms related to support will remain valid through a reconciliation period and future separation.

For example, imagine you and your spouse separate, reconcile, enter into a valid reconciliation agreement, and then later separate for the final time. If you’re entitled to spousal support but waive your rights to receive spousal support in the reconciliation, you will not receive spousal support payments after your final separation.

If all these rules seem complicated, it’s because they are. It takes a highly knowledgeable attorney to guide you through the possible pitfalls of a reconciliation—especially if the reconciliation fails.

If you want to reconcile with your spouse but are afraid you might give up some or all of your rights if you do or if you’ve already reconciled but want to separate again, we can help.  Our family law attorneys have years of experience navigating the complex laws surrounding separation and reconciliation. We will fight to protect your rights. Contact us today to speak an attorney.

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