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A couple may wish to sign a separation agreement to move on peacefully from an ending marriage. If you’re separating from your spouse, it’s important to understand your legal rights, especially if you are a parent. Parents should include clear and detailed child custody arrangements in their separation agreements. 

The Greene Wilson Crow & Smith attorneys provide clients with skilled legal advice on navigating the separation period. We can help you draft and negotiate a separation agreement that protects your parenting rights and interests. 

What Are the Requirements for a Separation Agreement in North Carolina?

In North Carolina, separation agreements are not required to be separated, but they can make the divorce process more smoothly. Signing a separation agreement isn’t required for a couple to be considered legally separated. However, signing a separation agreement helps a couple define the terms of their separation and protect themselves. 

A married couple may be considered “separated” by living in separate homes with the intent to remain separated. A separation agreement is a private contract between divorcing spouses. In other cases, a couple may decide to sign a separation agreement while they decide whether to pursue a divorce. With the help of an attorney, the parties will negotiate and determine the terms of the separation agreement. 

Separation Agreements Are Legally Enforceable Contracts

Once a written separation agreement has been signed by both parties and notarized, it becomes a legally binding contract. The terms of the agreement can be enforced in court. When a separation agreement is entered into a consent order as part of a divorce proceeding, a judge can use the contempt powers stated in the agreement to enforce its terms, including its child custody terms. 

What Terms Should Be Included in a Separation Agreement in North Carolina?

Creating a separation agreement is an important way to efficiently and privately resolve divorce-related issues, such as child custody, child support, alimony, and asset division. In addition to these terms, the separation agreement should also establish the effect of reconciliation on the separation agreement. 

It should also include which state’s law will govern the contract and the process for amending or rescinding the agreement. When a couple cannot resolve one or more legal issues, including child custody matters, using a mediator can be a helpful way to resolve the issues. Negotiating and signing a separation agreement can protect your rights now and in the future. 

Including Child Support and Child Custody in Your Separation Agreement

Under North Carolina laws, a spouse can file for divorce after the couple has been living separately for at least one year. During the separation period, one or both spouses must leave the marital home and establish separate households with no plan to reconcile in the future. You won’t be required to make the separation official during the mandatory one-year separation. 

Still, it is in your best interest to have your separation date put into writing through a separation agreement. Keeping documentation of your decisions and communication between you and your spouse can be helpful, especially if your spouse will be dishonest with the courts. During the one-year separation period, parents can establish a court-ordered child support payment arrangement and child custody arrangement.

Negotiating a Child Custody Arrangement in a Separation Agreement

When the parents do not have a court order or separation agreement, parents have equal rights to child custody until a custody agreement has been established. Regarding child support, the agreed-upon or acting custodial parent can file for child support with the court. If you can work together with your spouse, you can negotiate a parenting plan on your own and include it in a formal separation agreement.

Creating a parenting plan as part of a separation agreement can seem overwhelming. Many parents are concerned that they may lose out on spending time with their children. During negotiations for child custody and financial support agreements, it’s essential that both parents avoid using negative language around their children and that each parent puts their children’s interests above their own. 

Working with a mediator can help you negotiate a child custody arrangement. You should bring a parenting schedule or plan that details the child custody arrangements you want when you attend mediation. Consider making multiple schedules and plans to present different options. 

Where Will Your Children Live After Separation?

One of the first major decisions you’ll need to make concerning parenting after you separate is where your children will live. The determination of where your children will live should be made in the child’s best interest. Generally, children will live with the parent with physical custody and spend time with the other parent by setting up visitation schedules. Many courts prefer to award joint physical custody in which children live in both homes through a shared living arrangement. 

Adjusting Child Custody Agreements After a Change in Circumstance

After you draft and sign a separation agreement, you could experience a change that amounts to a material change of circumstance. You can avoid some potential sources of conflict by including clauses in your separation agreement that address specific changes. For example, you could include a provision stating that you will increase or decrease child support payments by a specific percentage if one parent’s income decreases. 

Who Will Make Decisions Related to Your Children After You Separate?

When negotiating a child custody arrangement as part of your separation agreement, you’ll need to decide who will make decisions about your children after you separate. There are many options for making decisions about your children with your soon-to-be-ex-spouse. Many parents make joint decisions, meaning both parents discuss and make decisions together. 

The other option is for one parent to make the sole decisions. In other cases, parents make divided decisions. For example, one parent may decide about the children’s school and health care, and the other may decide about religion or cultural practices. 

Discuss Your Case with a Family Law Attorney in North Carolina

Whether you have already separated or you intend to separate soon, speaking to an attorney will be beneficial. The Greene Wilson Crow & Smith family law attorneys are here to answer any questions. We can help you draft and negotiate a comprehensive separation agreement that includes child custody and child support provisions. Contact Greene Wilson Crow & Smith to schedule a complimentary case evaluation.