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Do I Need a Separation Agreement to Get Divorced in NC?

Many couples choose to live separately for a “trial period” before choosing divorce. If you find yourself in a similar position, you may want to consider a legal separation.

A separation agreement is a legally binding agreement between spouses which lays out the terms of separation, similar to that of divorce documents. It resolves issues such as the division of assets and debt, alimony/spousal support, child support, and visitation. Depending on where you live, your state of residence may require you to obtain a separation agreement prior to divorce. Other states don’t recognize them at all.

North Carolina legislation does recognize separation agreements, but they are not required to file for divorce. However, state law requires that couples “live separate and apart” for a full year before the divorce.

Even though separation agreements are not required to file for divorce in North Carolina, constructing one may still be beneficial, especially for couples that aren’t entirely certain of their choice to divorce. As previously mentioned, an agreement allows couples to experience something akin to a “trial period” of divorce. Spouses can live apart without worrying about child support or debt concerns arising down the road, but they don’t have to make the concrete choice to sever their marriage.

Other couples may choose a separation agreement for religious reasons. Some religious backgrounds frown upon divorce, and it isn’t uncommon to have family members who disagree with the choice for related reasons. Even if it may not be “ideal,” a separation agreement gives couples a chance to cut their ties without completely refuting their religious beliefs.

A separation agreement can be beneficial for those wanting a divorce but who are also facing financial issues. A separation agreement can help couples:

  • meet the 10-year requirement for social security benefits,
  • continue receiving health insurance benefits under a spouse’s plan,
  • take advantage of potential tax benefits from filing jointly,
  • retain certain military benefits, and
  • pool certain resources.

If you’re considering a divorce but don’t feel prepared to end your marriage completely, it may be wise to think about the option of a separation agreement instead. However, before making any decisions, make sure you communicate these thoughts with your spouse and consult one of our divorce professionals for guidance.


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