We’ve all heard the saying that half of all marriages end in divorce. The truth is that while the United States has a high divorce rate, statistics show that about two-thirds of all marriages don’t end in divorce. But even still, we all know someone that has gone through or is going through a divorce. And while divorces tend to get complicated and messy, a divorce is mostly about three key issues: Equitable Distribution, Alimony, and Child Custody.
Equitable distribution means a lot like it sounds. In NC, marital property is divided equally between the two spouses. So the next question is, what is marital property? Marital property is property or assets accumulated by two spouses between the date they are married and the date they separate. Any property acquired before the marriage is separate property and not subject to the equitable distribution rules. But as simple as that sounds, separate property can appreciate in value during the marriage and sometimes property can be classified as part separate property and part marital property. This is why it is important that when you meet with your lawyer for the first time, you need to bring all information pertaining to real property, personal property, mortgage information, bank accounts, retirement and investment accounts, and anything else of value that you or your spouse may own. While this could be a daunting task, it will save your lawyer time (and you money), to get this information ahead of time.
Alimony and post-separation support could be awarded, but not always. First, there must be a supporting spouse and dependent spouse relationship. What this means is that one spouse is responsible for generating the majority of the marital income and the other spouse has been dependent upon them for that support. Second, the award of alimony or support must be equitable or fair. The court will consider many factors such as marital misconduct, the spouse’s ability to earn an income, how long the marriage has lasted, standard of living, and other factors to ensure that requiring one spouse to continue to support the other spouse after the marriage is fair.
Lastly, the most contested matter is child custody. While the Courts will consider many factors to determine the custody of the child, the most important standard they will use is the “best interest of the child” rule. North Carolina no longer practices the “tender years rule,” which was the presumption that the mother should get custody of the child. Today, the father has just as much right to get custody of the child as does the mother and the Court will place children where the best interests are served. Also, all contested custody is required to go through a mediation process before the Courts will enter a custody order. But there are times when the Courts will enter temporary custody orders before mediation if there is a belief that the child’s safety is at issue.
At the end of the day, divorce is not something that you should decide to enter into casually, but there are situations where divorce is the best option for both spouses and even the children. NC courts and statutes have tried to remove the emotion from a divorce as much as possible by laying down guidelines and rules on how to settle property distribution and alimony. The hardest issue to reconcile is child custody and rightfully so. But at the end of the day, it is incumbent upon both sides and their attorneys to do what is best for the child.
Divorce is complicated and very few are ever easy. This is a process that you should not go at alone. You need competent representation to assist you in making decisions that will impact not only your future, but the future of your children as well. You need to know your rights in the divorce process and you need an attorney to be your voice in a time where your emotions can cloud your judgment. If you are faced with the inevitable position that you are getting a divorce, please contact our firm and let us help you through this trying time.