Written by attorney Elspeth Gray Crawford

Enforcing Separation Agreements in North Carolina

A separation agreement is a contract between a husband and a wife that states the terms of their separation. These agreements are entered into when parties separate and are contemplating divorce. Typically, parties use separation agreements to ensure that their property and debts are divided equally. Parties may also choose to decide alimony, child custody, child support, and visitation in their separation agreements.

The advantage of a separation agreement is that the parties are able to privately negotiate the terms of the contract independent of a judge. The parties, therefore, have the final decision as to the terms of the agreement and the agreement is not public record. Separation agreements are also usually quicker, less expensive, and provide better results for the parties than does litigation.

One disadvantage of a separation agreement, as opposed to a court order, is enforceability. As a contract, to enforce a separation agreement, a party must bring a lawsuit. This can be an expensive and lengthy process. A court order, on the other hand, is easily enforceable through the power of contempt.

Once the parties divorce, the separation agreement may become part of the divorce decree. Parties may elect to submit their separation agreement to a judge for approval, or keep the separation agreement as a separate contract. In North Carolina, a judge isn't required to approve a separation agreement. If the court does approve the separation agreement, it merges into the court order. The agreement is no longer treated as a contract and is, instead, enforced as a court order.

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