What is the Difference Between a Separation Agreement and a Divorce Agreement?

If you are approaching divorce in North Carolina, you may have heard terms like “divorce agreement” and “separation agreement.” These legal terms can be confusing, especially when there are many other confusing phrases to understand. Some of these phrases can even be written in Latin, giving you absolutely no chance of figuring out what is going on! Although it can be daunting to be faced with so many confusing terms, you should do your best to figure out what it all means. If you have a basic understanding of important terms, it becomes easier to approach this process with confidence.

Of course, you can always turn to your attorney for clarification if you are feeling lost. Our legal professionals can explain all the various terms and phrases that you might be having trouble with. You can also explain your unique situation during an initial consultation with one of our attorneys. During this initial meeting, we can assess your goals and priorities while also explaining concepts like separation agreements and divorce agreements.

The Two Terms Are Interchangeable.

Generally speaking, a separation agreement and a divorce agreement are the same. These terms tend to be used interchangeably in the legal world, although the official term used by the North Carolina government is “separation agreement.” Other terms include “divorce settlement agreement,” “mediated settlement agreement,” and marital separation agreement.” Once again, these terms all refer to the same thing in the legal world. Sometimes, these are simply referred to as “agreements.”

That being said, the term “separation agreement” is a little broader, as it encompasses both non-married couples and spouses. Married spouses may obtain a separation agreement, but so too might non-married spouses who need to deal with things like child support and child custody. These non-married individuals are “separating” rather than “divorcing.”

Most divorcing spouses in North Carolina must also separate for at least 12 months before moving forward with the divorce. This means that divorcing spouses will technically be “separated” before their divorce is finalized, and so an agreement may be required to handle various aspects of this separation before the divorce occurs. In this situation, one spouse may receive “post-separation support” during this 12-month period and before the divorce is finalized.

What is a Separation Agreement?

According to North Carolina law, the exact legal definition of a separation agreement is: “A private contract between spouses who are separated or plan to separate very soon.” Your separation agreement will likely include terms related to child support, spousal support, property division, and child custody. For example, a separation agreement might communicate which spouse will remain in the family home, who gets the family car, and how a family business is divided.

What Can a Separation Agreement Include?

Separation agreements can be extremely flexible, and working with your spouse to iron out all of the details of these agreements outside of court can be very beneficial. When spouses are able to agree on aspects of their divorce outside of court, this is known as a collaborative divorce. Avoiding court can lead to fewer legal fees and a faster overall process. In addition, a collaborative divorce can be less stressful, with a lower chance of bitterness and resentment after separation.

Separation agreements allow you to do things that are impossible in court. For example, a separation agreement can ensure that college tuition is paid via child support funds. Normally, North Carolina does not enforce child support after a student starts attending college, but parents can mutually agree that this is the best option.

Things to Avoid With Your Separation Agreement

If you want to create an effective separation agreement, you also need to avoid adding in certain things. You cannot create terms that would force either spouse to do anything illegal. In addition, you cannot force third parties to do anything with your agreement. This is a private agreement between two spouses, and no one else can be compelled to take certain actions. Finally, you should know that your separation agreement will be invalid if either spouse is coerced or misled in any way.

Enlist the Help of a Qualified Attorney Today

If you have been searching for a qualified, experienced divorce attorney in North Carolina, look no further than Arnold & Smith, PLLC. Over the years, we have helped numerous spouses in the Tar Heel State, including those who wish to pursue collaborative divorces. This process can be much more effective compared to a litigated divorce, as your divorce agreement gives you plenty of options for flexible outcomes. Compared to a litigated divorce, this process can also be cheaper, quicker, and less stressful. Get in touch today, and we can start working on an action plan right away.