In order to get a divorce in North Carolina, you and your spouse must be legally separated for a whole year. All that is required to be legally separated is that you live apart from one another and that at least one of you has no intention of resuming the marriage. One of you must also have lived in North Carolina for six months just prior to filing for divorce.
That said, a year is a long time to wait to make decisions about child custody, division of property, bills and alimony. You can get decisions made in one of two ways during your period of legal separation: a separation agreement or a court order.
A separation agreement is not required for you to be considered legally separated, but it can help you through the pre-divorce period. This is a contract between you and your divorcing spouse that can cover issues including where the children will live, who will pay child support, who will live in the marital home, and whether one spouse owes the other spousal support.
This agreement can resolve all of the issues surrounding your separation or you may make several temporary agreements during this time.
Before signing any agreements, it is important to understand the basics of how property is divided, how child custody and support are determined, whether there will be alimony, and who is responsible for what bills. The rules for these questions are complex, and it is best to get concrete advice on your individual circumstances.
What if my spouse and I can’t agree?
Some issues related to child custody, property division and support may need to be decided right away. If you and your divorcing spouse are unable to agree on one or more of these issues, you may need to get a temporary court order. Your lawyer can help you file for temporary orders.
Temporary orders can include:
- Legal custody
- Physical custody
- Child support
- Payment of existing bills
- Who will live in the marital home
- Certain property issues that can’t wait until the full divorce
- Temporary spousal support for a financially dependent spouse
- Orders not to spend down the assets or take out new debts
Temporary orders only last until the overall divorce is final or until a time specified by the order. Your period of legal separation may give insight into what works with these orders and what needs to be changed. Be sure to be clear with your lawyer about what is and isn’t working so that you revise your orders as you move forward.
When the time comes for your divorce, you can incorporate your separation agreement into your divorce so that it becomes a final court order.