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Post-Separation Support in North Carolina

Separation agreements can be valuable tools during the divorce process if drafted and used correctly. It is easy for divorcing spouses to let emotions cloud their judgment during the litigation period, and a separation agreement can provide them with a set of guidelines to lower instances of disagreement and conflict.

Separation Agreements in North Carolina

A separation agreement is a legal contract between divorcing or separated spouses that lays out their agreed terms. The agreements often include details such as the division of bills, possession of the marital home, and child custody. If the parties can agree on support amounts, this will also be included in the separation agreement.

It is not legally required for spouses to be considered separated in North Carolina[1], but numerous issues can be resolved in a shorter time frame by implementing a separation agreement. Oftentimes, spouses who have agreed upon terms to include in the agreement will request that it be incorporated into the final decree of divorce.

For a North Carolina separation agreement to be valid, it must be in writing and include the notarized signature of each spouse[2]. The requirements for a separation agreement are basic, so it may seem like a relatively simple process. However, creating a legal contract like this can be deceptively complicated.

Changing Post-Separation Support Terms

Child support can be included in a separation agreement so that post-separation support can be implemented, but that does not mean that these terms cannot be changed later. Further, ensuring that the terms of the contract are explicitly and clearly outlined is crucial for a separation agreement to be effective in the long term. In the case of Jackson v. Jackson[3] in Wake County, the verbiage of the separation agreement became the focus of a child support appeal.

In the Jacksons’ separation agreement, there were listed termination events for which the father’s child support obligation would end, as follows:

  • The latter of the youngest child turning 18 or graduating high school
  • Emancipation of the children
  • Death of the children or father
  • A court order that modifies or ends child support

A few years later, the mother moved, and the parties’ only minor child stayed with the father in Raleigh. Because the child was staying with him instead of the mother, the father filed a motion for child support. However, the trial court determined that child support should remain unchanged and continue to follow the separation agreement terms. The father appealed this decision.

The father stated in his appeal that his obligation to pay child support ended because he was now the custodial parent. The Court of Appeals, however, did not agree with his argument. The separation agreement, which the father agreed to and signed, included specific events that would warrant the termination of a support obligation, none of which had occurred. Despite this, the Court of Appeals also found that further findings of fact were needed to assess the reasonable needs of the minor child.

Cases like this show just how important it is to work with a Greensboro family lawyer on divorce and child support matters. Woodruff Family Law Group has extensive experience and knowledge in drafting separation agreements, so schedule a consultation to discuss your separation with a Greensboro divorce attorney today.

[1] North Carolina Judicial Branch. Separation and Divorce.

[2] Id.

[3] Jackson v. Jackson, 280 N.C. App. 325, 868 S.E.2d 104.