Legal Separation & Separation Agreements:

  • By:Ron Payne

Everything you wanted to know about legal separation and separation agreements in North Carolina:

A question we often get at our office is what are the legal requirements for separation and separation agreements in North Carolina. So, here’s a short article to help you understand what is (and is not!) required for a legal separation and separation agreements in North Carolina.

  1. You must live separate and apart. That means you cannot live in the same house – even if he (or she) is sleeping permanently in the guest bedroom/couch/doghouse, that doesn’t count. Generally speaking, moving out of the house and getting their mail at a new location is what it takes.
  2. You must intend to live separate and apart. Example: The wife goes on vacation to “take time to think about things on January 1. On January 7, while still on vacation, she decides she is finished and can’t take it anymore, so she calls and gets an apartment, which she moves into at the end of her vacation on January 14. What is the date of separation? January 7. Why? Because at that point, she decided to live separate and apart, and was out of the marital residence.
  3. That’s it. Once one spouse leaves, with the intent to be gone and to break off the marriage, that’s enough.
  4. But don’t I need a written agreement? Nope! While a written agreement is a great thing – it can deal with child custody, support, alimony, who gets what, etc., it is NOT required to be “legally separated” … You can be legally separated with or without an agreement.
  5. Do I have to have something filed at the Register of Deeds? (Keep reading!)
  6. If my ex and I reach an agreement, do we have to file it with the Register of Deeds? No! As a matter of fact, you probably should NOT file such an agreement at the Register of Deeds, because then it permanently becomes a public record. Did you put your maiden name in their? What about your bank accounts and/or account numbers? What about the value of your bank accounts or your retirement plans? The child custody schedule that you’ve agreed to? Would you want a stranger to know all of those details? NO! Once you file it, you can NOT undo it. There’s no magic “delete” button, even if you both agree.

What are the requirements for legal separation in North Carolina?

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Requirements for Separation Agreements

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  • So what are the basic requirements of a separation agreement?
    1. First, you need to write out the terms you each agree to.
    2. Second, both of you, at a minimum need to sign the agreement.
  • So that’s it? Yes!
    1. But what about a Notary? Having the signatures notarized is a GREAT idea and highly recommended. While it isn’t required, it also keeps either of you from stating “I didn’t sign that” or “they forged my signature”.
    2. What about filing it? You CAN file it, but as we said above, you probably shouldn’t. First, you might change your mind about things such as custody or child support, and you also probably don’t want all those details made public. What you CAN file (and sometimes banks will require you to file for loan purposes) is a “Memorandum of Separation Agreement”, which basically states that you agree that you separated on a certain date and reached an agreement about things on certain date. This gives the banks and general public legal notice that you have separated and are no longer joint on financial transactions, etc.
    3. Do I HAVE to have a separation agreement? No, of course not! It is recommended, but if you don’t have any property to divide, no children and nobody wants any support, it isn’t as urgent.
    4. So if I have no children, property to divide, and don’t want any support, why might I still want a separation agreement? 1) A good separation agreement will have each spouse indemnify the other from any new debts, which means you won’t have to pay for your ex’s credit card, for example. 2) A good separation agreement will waive rights in each other’s estates. Meaning, if one of you passes away, the other person waives their inheritance rights, as well as the right to be the executor. While we’ve personally witnessed cases where a separated spouse has served as the executor of an estate because there was nobody else available in state to do so, most of the time somebody who passed away probably doesn’t want their ex-spouse handling their estate (and the ex-spouse probably doesn’t want to do it, either! 3) A good separation agreement will indemnify the other from accidents, etc. For example, what if one of the spouses, in the wake of the breakup, heads to the bar, has too much to drink, and wrecks their vehicle, causing injuries to other parties? Indemnification will help protect you in the event of a lawsuit.

Follow up questions we usually get – about divorce:

  1. How long do we have to be separate and apart? You have to be legally separated, (living separate and apart) for a year plus a day, or 366 days. We advise folks to file no early than a year plus 3 days, which gives a slight bit of wiggle room.
  2. You can NOT have “re-consumated” the marriage; if you did, you may end up resetting the legally separated for year and a day clock. If this applies to you, be sure to tell your attorney.
  • But can’t we just “agree” on a date? Sure – but there’s a risk of one of you later changing your mind and actually asking the court to “set aside” the divorce – which means any later marriage would be void, PLUS you could face potential sanctions or charges for perpetuating a fraud on the court. Our advice? Wait the extra days or months so you don’t risk it. Sanctions/criminal charges/fraud on the court all spell extra trouble and expensive legal fees – don’t risk it.

Did you find this information helpful? Please be sure to let us know what other questions you have, so we can make sure our blog posts are useful!  If you need help, or have more questions about legal separation, separation agreements, and/or divorce, contact one of the attorneys at Apple Payne Law, PLLC for a consultation. We offer one-hour consultations both in person, and over the phone, to help give you the legal advice you need. From there, we can see if you need our assistance, can handle it yourself, or need to file suit. While we hope you don’t need us for separation or divorce, we are honored to help if it comes to that. We promise to work hard on your behalf and to help take some of the stress off of your shoulders. We have fair & reasonable retainers, and will work with you on payment plans as well. We also accept credit cards and online payments for your convenience. Give the team at Apple Payne Law, PLLC a call!

Posted in: Family, Legal Consultation, Legal Education, Pro Se, Trusted Law Agency


6 Responses to “Legal Separation & Separation Agreements:”

  1. John Mahoney

    I didn’t know you needed to write the terms of your separation when separating from your spouse. It makes sense that understanding this can help you make sure you are prepared for the process and know what to expect. I can see how anyone looking into this would want to consult with a professional and make sure this is the path and terms they want.

    April 3, 2017 - 10:27 pm #
    • Jackie

      I have few questions:
      We had made our own separation agreement where he gave me the house and payments for the next 2 years because all our revolving debts were in my name. We had it notarized then I took it to the Register of Deeds and the tax department. If I go on our county’s website it shows they received the agreement but I still see my husband’s name. Are they waiting for the courts to finalize this and to permanently remove his name?

      I received a Complaint For Absolute Divorce this week. Its says nothing about the house or his payments to me on it. Should I submit an answer to the summons and attach the separation agreement? If yes should I also to “Merge but not incorporate it into the divorce?

      June 21, 2017 - 12:43 pm #
      • Ron Payne

        Jackie, this would be something we would be glad to talk with you about! Call us at (336) 283-6198 to setup a consultation.

        June 21, 2017 - 1:45 pm #
  2. Ways To Save Your Marriage Alone

    Pretty nice post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wished to say that I have truly enjoyed surfing around your blog posts. Thanks and keep up the great work!

    January 1, 2018 - 12:37 pm #
  3. Bethany Birchridge

    It was interesting that you could be legally separated without an agreement in Virginia. Do you know if this is true in other states? My friend wants to separate from her husband due to his unfaithfulness. I’ll share this article with her.

    April 19, 2018 - 2:08 pm #
  4. Sam Li

    I appreciate what you clarified about separation agreements and how they forbid parents from living in the same home. I believe that these agreements should only be put in place by authoritative lawyers. If I were to ever take part in a separation agreement, I would make sure to first consult with a lawyer that has an amazing reputation.

    May 21, 2019 - 3:06 pm #