Some spouses in North Carolina who are facing divorce will want to legally separate first. In North Carolina, legal separation boils down to living arrangements and intent. To be legally separated in North Carolina, each spouse must be residing in a separate location, and at least one if not both of the spouses must intend to be permanently separated from their partner. If spouses are no longer in a relationship with one another but continue to live together in the same residence, they are not legally separated. Likewise, if the spouses live in different residences but do not intend for the separation to be permanent, they are not legally separated.

In North Carolina, a written separation agreement is not a requirement for a legal separation. However, they can prove useful especially if the spouses later divorce.  To be legally valid, a separation agreement must be written, bear the signatures of both spouses and be notarized. Separation agreements can outline which spouse will pay which bills, who will remain in the marital home and they can address child custody and support issues, spousal support issues and property division issues.

In some cases, the separation agreement can be made part of the spouse’s divorce order, which could simplify the entire divorce process. Keep in mind, however, that a judge will examine whether child custody clauses are in the child’s best interest and may order a different arrangement if necessary. Similarly, if child support clauses in the separation agreement are insufficient to meet the child’s reasonable needs, the judge may alter the final divorce decree accordingly.

Couples in North Carolina who want to legally separate should give careful thought to the execution of a separation agreement. While it is not requisite to a legal separation, it can help the spouses understand their new roles and it can address many of the issues the couple will have to negotiate during the divorce process. Attorneys are available to those who want to learn more about separation agreements.