There are many moving pieces to the end of a marriage in North Carolina. The divorce process typically takes many months, and therefore couples may separate long before they have a hearing in court.
It is common practice for those preparing to live their lives apart after years of marriage to negotiate a separation agreement. Such agreements clarify what will happen in the divorce and provide a baseline expectation for custody matters and the division of marital property.
Unfortunately, not every divorcing couple will quickly and amicably settle their affairs. What happens when one spouse won’t sign a separation agreement?
The other spouse may proceed with a filing
Although it can be a much cleaner divorce when couples already have an agreement prior to filing, not everyone can negotiate terms in those high-conflict early days. The good news is that there does not need to be a formal separation agreement in place for one spouse to leave the home or for either spouse to proceed with the divorce filing. It simply means that there is a possibility that the case will end up litigated instead of settled.
The spouses can attempt mediation
In scenarios where both spouses recognize that reaching a settlement would be beneficial for the family, they could potentially attend mediation. Having their own attorneys present in addition to the support of a neutral mediator could be what the spouses need to reach an agreement about property division, support and child custody matters.
In scenarios for one spouse refuses to sign a settlement agreement, they may also refuse to attend mediation or attempt any other sort of amicable conflict resolution. Sometimes, people have to prepare for litigation.
A judge can make the major decisions
If spouses cannot agree on how to share time with their children or the property they have accumulated, then a judge can use the equitable distribution statute to decide how to divide their property. State law will also guide any custody and support determinations that a judge must make.
Even when there is intense disagreement between the spouses about the biggest choices in their divorce, a judge will be able to resolve those disputes after learning about the family circumstance and then applying state law appropriately. Negotiating a settlement agreement can certainly help speed up and control the divorce process, but it is not necessary for spouses to sign an agreement to move forward with North Carolina divorce proceedings.