North Carolina Separation Agreement and Property Settlement (SAPS)

Divorce is rarely easy. It can feel like an overwhelming upending of lives that have been both emotionally and legally intertwined. During a divorce, even the smartest, most level headed people often devolve into emotional fights and bickering. This can be true even when both spouses agree a divorce is necessary. Helping people avoid this unnecessary (and often costly) drama is what drives our divorce attorneys and legal team.

Litigation can be costly. There’s significant legal work that goes into navigating technical requirements and preparation for divorce trials. On top of this, litigation often ends up causing spouses going through divorce more tension, more headaches, and if they have children, a deeper breakdown in their co-parenting. So how do you avoid this? 

When a couple separates, there are numerous issues that must be resolved. These issues usually include dividing property, determining spousal support and alimony, establishing child custody arrangements, and setting up child support payments. To handle these matters efficiently, reduce stress levels, keep everything private, and potentially avoid court, many couples opt for a separation and property settlement agreement.

A separation and property settlement agreement, which is also referred to as  a SAPS or Marital Settlement Agreement, is a private legal contract between two spouses who are separated or plan to be separated. A separation agreement encompasses mutually agreed upon terms, including everything from assigning responsibility for covering specific costs in a household, to determining if one spouse will continue residing in the marital home, to  specifying the children’s living arrangements (if there are children in the marriage). SAPS can also cover things like the distribution of property, alimony, and, in the case of children, custody and support. The only thing a separation agreement can’t do is grant an actual divorce.

In North Carolina, a separation agreement and property settlements allows you to work everything out before ever going to court. Unfortunately, in our state, you do still have to be separated for a year before filing for divorce. A separation agreement allows you to get a plan in place and begin living your new life before you reach this year. 

The Big Questions that a Separation and Property Settlement Agreement can answer

Child Custody and Child Support

If there are children in the marital household, North Carolina courts are charged with protecting their best interests. Issues surrounding child custody and child support payments often take center stage during the separation process. Both parents have a responsibility to support the child but in a separation agreement, the specifics of this can be outlined. Reaching out to an attorney is an important consideration here. If you can’t come up with an agreement, the court will hand down a standardized custody and visitation schedule.

Asset Division and Property Settlements

What constitutes “property”? Property encompasses both tangible and intangible assets, including real estate (this can include the marital home), personal possessions (such as cars, jewelry, and furniture), as well as financial assets (such as bank accounts, stocks and bonds, retirement plans, and life insurance policies). A separation agreement and property settlement can help determine what property goes to who and what accounts need to be divided. We’ve found it to be a lot less adversarial than full-blown litigation. For spouses looking to implement this agreement and have a more cordial post-marital relationship (for the sake of themselves, the kids, or their business), dividing assets with a property settlement is a great option. 

Marital Support / Alimony

Separation Agreement and Property Settlements can outline the terms of alimony payments, or one party can even waive their claim to alimony, but it is important for both parties to carefully consider the terms of the agreement before signing it. Not all forms of alimony are the same. Alimony can be in lump sum, in monthly payments, for life, for a period of time, modifiable, or not-modifiable.  If alimony is an issue in your separation, meeting with an experienced alimony attorney to understanding the options and what might resolve your case is imperative.    

Why you should hire a lawyer to do your separation agreement and property settlement 

You might be reading through all of this and thinking “why can’t my spouse and I just come up with a document separating everything ourselves.” Trust us, we understand why you might be tempted to do this. But please, please do not sign a contract without consulting a North Carolina family law attorney first. 

We have seen time and time again clients who draw up their own separation agreement, only to realize, down the road, they’ve lost more money, property, even time with their kids than they had to. There are also many times that the couple makes errors and the agreement is rendered unenforceable. Sometimes one party doesn’t understand the agreement, violates it, and then the other party files a lawsuit. Sometimes people don’t fully address all the property and finances and fail to have alimony and property division waivers, causing them many headaches down the line.  And we didn’t even bring up the fact that during the early stages of separation, you are probably not in the best state to negotiate and work things out with your soon to be ex.  In the end, it typically ends up costing people more time, money, and stress than if they would’ve hired a lawyer at the start. 

In the end, in DIY separation agreements, like the generic ones you find online, are not going to cater to your family and to your separation. Many times they don’t consider the specific particularities of North Carolina law. 

Find a Marital Agreement Lawyer Near You

At Triangle Smart Divorce, our lawyers are available to assist you, striving to reach a smart settlement through negotiation, mediation, and a sensible process. We aim to avoid court and litigation but we know what needs to be done in court to be successful when it’s the only option. We’ve helped numerous clients in crafting separation agreements. If you’ve got any questions, give us a call.


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