Blog What to Expect in a North Carolina Divorce

What to Expect in a North Carolina Divorce

The fabled seven-year itch is a real thing. That’s roughly the average length of a marriage that ends in divorce. Over these years, these couples usually forge significant emotional and financial bonds. Breaking these bonds is never easy and is often quite tricky. That’s especially true if, as is typically the case, the couple has children.

Premarital agreements make the divorce process much smoother. Generally, no matter how poorly the couple got along, neither wants to see the other go through excessive physical and/or emotional pain. Additionally, prenups are more than divorce insurance. Typically, such an agreement puts marriage on a much stronger footing.

Prenup or no prenup, a good divorce lawyer makes the process much easier as well. Attorneys know how to break down complex problems and find cost-effective, long-lasting solutions that set the stage for a successful post-divorce life for all family members. In addition to original actions, we also handle custody, parenting time, and other modification motions. So, we continue to stand up for your financial and legal rights.

Filing the Petition

As a rule of thumb, long-term separation divorces are usually less stressful and expensive than short-term separation divorces. Petition filing may be one of the most notable exceptions. If the respondent (non-filing spouse) lives locally and doesn’t want to contest the proceedings, filing a petition may be as simple as filing paperwork. This phase is much more complex after a long-term separation, especially if the respondent has moved on.

Petition service is a good example. A few Carteret County family law judges allow petitioners (filing spouses) to electronically notify respondents of divorce filings, even over a platform like Facebook or Twitter. However, most judges require personal service, if at all possible.

When petitioners have good local home and work addresses for respondents, and the respondent is willing to accept service, this process is usually straightforward. In fact, many respondents sign waivers of citation in these situations. These documents always include a personal service waiver. They often have a blanket waiver in which respondents give up their rights to contest the proceedings.

No good address? That could be a problem. As mentioned, most judges prefer personal service. If the respondent’s whereabouts are unknown, judges are usually willing to allow alternative service if the petitioner diligently tries to find the respondent. Evidence of diligence includes:

  • Contacting friends and family members
  • Searching social media
  • Multiple unsuccessful attempts at a last known address

This alternative service usually posts the citation near the courthouse door or runs an ad in an approved newspaper. The respondent could overturn the service later if a divorce lawyer dots every I and crosses every T.

Temporary Hearing

A judge usually holds a temporary hearing for two weeks after a petitioner files. This hearing basically establishes some divorce ground rules.

Some ground rules are pretty straightforward. For example, most temporary hearings include general “property and parties” restraining orders. These orders typically prohibit either party from interfering in the affairs of the other party. Furthermore, most judges order divorce participants to only spend money on everyday necessities and divorce-related costs, like attorneys’ fees.

More stringent protective orders are available as well. Verified allegations of domestic abuse usually prompt judges to issue orders like:

  • Limited child visitation, including supervised visitation
  • Mandatory anger management, parenting, or other classes
  • Required substance abuse counseling
  • Firearm surrender provisions
  • Anti-stalking orders

A protective order is more than a piece of paper. These orders allow alleged victims to notify schools, daycares, and other organizations about the problem. Additionally, law enforcement agencies that slowly respond to domestic violence calls often quickly respond to violations of court orders.

Property Division 

North Carolina is an equitable distribution state. Property, including debts and assets, must be divided equitably so that the divorce isn’t an unfair financial burden on either party. The property division process includes classification as well as division.

Only marital property is subject to equitable division. It’s not always easy to distinguish marital from non-marital property. For example, the Husband might use money from his paycheck (marital property) to pay his student loans (nonmarital debt).

Marital property division comes next. North Carolina law sets out several factors to consider, including

  • Standard of living during the marriage
  • Noneconomic contributions to the relationship
  • Custody of minor children
  • Future earning capacity of each party
  • Nonmarital property awards
  • Agreements between the parties

On a related note, most divorces also include child support and alimony provisions. A statutory formula usually determines child support obligations. North Carolina’s alimony laws balance the obligee’s financial needs (not wants) with the obligor’s ability (not willingness) to pay.

Out-of-Court Settlement

Almost all marriage dissolution matters settle out of court. Emotional courtroom showdowns usually only benefit divorce lawyers.

Informal negotiations usually begin shortly after the temporary hearing. Most judges appoint mediators if these negotiations stall or break down. The mediator meets with both parties in a relatively informal setting. These individuals know how to translate broad agreements on general principles into specific agreements on specific provisions. Additionally, both sides have a legal duty to negotiate in good faith during mediation.

Primarily because of a mediator’s skill and the duty to negotiate in good faith, family law mediation in North Carolina is about 90 percent successful.

Contact a Dedicated Attorney

Parties who know what to expect in divorce cases can usually make better choices. For a confidential consultation with an experienced divorce lawyer, contact Schulz Stephenson Law. Convenient payment plans are available.

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