Legal Professional?
Build Your Business

The Basics of North Carolina Divorce Law



North Carolina divorce law requires you to live separately from your spouse for at least a year before you file for a divorce. Judges expect separated spouses to work out their issues during this period, thus avoiding an ugly courtroom battle when the time comes to finalize the divorce, called an absolute divorce in North Carolina.

While every divorce is unique, disagreements between spouses often fall in one of the four areas:

  • Diving the property and debts
  • Alimony
  • Custody of the children
  • Child Support

This article will detail how North Carolina divorce law deals with these issues.

North Carolina Property and Debt

Family law judges overseeing North Carolina divorces divide property and debts according to a policy of equitable distribution. This means that the property and debts are divided fairly between the spouses. Depending on the circumstances of the break-up, a 50-50 split is not necessarily considered fair. Your divorce attorney will best advise you.

Property includes personal property, such as cars and furniture, and real property, such as houses and land. Debt includes mortgages, car loans, and credit cards. You do not have to divide up what is considered separate property. Separate property includes:

  • Any property acquired before the marriage
  • Gifts and inheritances acquired during the marriage by just one spouse
  • Any property acquired in exchange for separate property
  • Any increase in the value of separate property

You must file your claim for equitable distribution of marital property prior to a judge granting an absolute divorce. Once the divorce has been finalized, it is too late to address this issue. Claims regarding the property are typically filed at the same time as a complaint for absolute divorce.

North Carolina Alimony

Alimony, or post-separation support, as it is called in North Carolina divorces, is not awarded in all cases. Similar to dividing up the property, if you are interested in getting financial help from your spouse, you need to make a claim for alimony before a family law judge issues an absolute divorce judgment.

In negotiating possible alimony with your spouse, it is important to know which factors a judge examines when deciding alimony. They include:

  • Marital misconduct
  • Earnings and earning potential
  • How long the marriage lasted
  • Contributions each spouse made to the marriage
  • Standard of living
  • The physical and mental health of the spouses
  • The needs of each spouse

You may be eligible for alimony if you are substantially dependent on your spouse to provide for your financial needs. Alimony can be temporary, paid for a short period while you pursue education or training that will help you better provide for yourself, or permanent. It can be paid in installments or in one lump sum.

North Carolina Child Custody

Couples seeking a divorce in North Carolina need to know that judges will presume that both parents should have maximum involvement in their childrens lives. The standard in deciding custody is always the best interests of the child.

"The state holds a very high interest in ensuring that minor children are supported both physically as well as emotionally, despite the deterioration of the relationship between the parents," says the North Carolina State University on a website that offers links to agencies that offer information about custody issues. That duty to support falls on both parties."

If a couple cannot agree on custody, then the judge will decide for them. In making their decision, judges consider whether there has been any domestic violence in the family, the safety of the children, and even the wishes of the child if he or she is of "sufficient" age.

Judges look at many factors regarding the children in custody cases, including:

  • Any special needs the child may have
  • The quality of care the child is receiving in his or her current living arrangement
  • The childs educational performance
  • The childs involvement in extracurricular activities
  • The childs physical and emotional state

In addition, judges will look closely at the parents, including:

  • Their ability to care for the child
  • Their employment history
  • Their living situations
  • Any substance abuse issues
  • Any mental health issues
  • Any dating relationships the divorcing spouses may have

If a decision about custody is left to a judge, he or she may announce the decision in court aloud or issue a written decision on a later day. The judges decision is a court order, and you must comply with it or risk being held in contempt of court and face punishment.

North Carolina Child Support

In North Carolina, child support is calculated using specific guidelines that take into consideration the gross income of the divorcing parents and the number of children. North Carolina child support guidelines are available online.

North Carolina Divorce Law

Because the state requires divorcing couples to have lived separately for a year before proceeding with North Carolina divorces, you can use this time to work out these issues with your spouse. Your divorce attorney will advise you on the possible outcomes you may achieve in each of the four main areas of contention.