If a couple chooses to separate and divorce without pursuing litigation, it is likely they will negotiate and establish a settlement agreement. This is often an important step in the divorce process, and individuals should understand the particulars and significance of this agreement as they move forward.
What is in a settlement agreement?
In North Carolina, this agreement is often referred to as the marital settlement agreement or separation agreement. Even though a separation agreement is not necessary under state law for a separation to be valid, spouses generally must address these details in their divorce proceedings.
This document usually encompasses all of those details, including:
- Child custody, visitation and parenting plans
- Finances, debts and the property division settlement
- Spousal support agreements
- Child support agreements
Negotiating and signing the settlement agreement does not mean the proceedings are complete. This is not the same as the final divorce order, or divorce decree, in which the court confirms and grants the legal end of the marriage. However, this is still an important agreement that establishes the particulars of a couple’s divorce.
This is a legal agreement. But what does that mean?
It is important to understand that this agreement functions as a binding contract – a legal agreement – once both spouses sign it. Disregarding the agreement could potentially result in judges holding an individual in contempt of court if their ex-spouse files a complaint.
This is one of the reasons why it is so critical to:
- Negotiate realistic and fair terms for the family
- Follow the terms of the agreement
- Modify the agreement if one cannot adhere to it
Individuals should not take the terms of their divorce lightly, whether they are in the middle of negotiating them or moving forward after the end of their marriage. They must take the legal agreement seriously to protect themselves, their rights and their families.