Divorce and Child Custody

During more than 25 years I have represented folks here in Lumberton and Robeson County, North Carolina, for divorce, alimony, child custody, and equitable distribution, the issues and the outcomes remain about the same.

Resign yourself. Nobody really wins in a divorce, least of all the children. Don’t ask them to take sides because they will affirm a universal, unspoken prayer–that Mommie and Daddy will get back together and love each other again. Sadly, it by the time the parties get to the lawyer, the kids’ prayer will not be answered.

Nor do lifestyles of the newly divorced usually improve. Two separate households cannot be run as efficiently as one. Both parities will usually experience a less affluent lifestyle.

On top of that, parties to a divorce are headed into an emotional wasteland for a while where they will not seem to be sure of anything. If you can accept the realities above, take heart. People do get through divorce on the way to more fulfilling lives–and we will help to do. Many times for over a quarter century we have trod this path for the wounded victims of divorce.

What we will be able to do is get you separated and divorced so you can live the life you choose, not one hopelessly hitched to a shattered dream. Depending on the circumstances you may be entitled to what is called a Divorce from Bed and Board. This is an interim or temporary divorce usually arising from circumstances of abuse, neglect, infidelity or other intolerable behavior which has made life with your spouse burdensome. When the Court grants this kind of divorce early in the proceedings you are then allowed to resume your independence apart from your spouse pending the final divorce which you cannot get in North Carolina until one year after your physical separation. You may be entitled to spousal support if your spouse makes more money than you do. We’ll file an affidavit of your expenses and if your income falls short of your expenses a Court is likely to order your spouse to pay you some or all of the shortfall, until after the divorce and the property distribution when the Court will consider your plea for permanent alimony. To establish a fight to permanent alimony you must show more than simple need. The dependent spouse must show fault on the part of the supporting spouse (the one who makes the most money). Abuse, neglect, infidelity and other egregious behaviors may form the basis of legal fault to support the alimony judgment. Other factors my affect the amount of alimony: length of the marriage, skills of the dependant spouse and his/her health and ability to return to or stay in the workforce with those skills, and any other fault of the dependant spouse in the breakup of the marriage. Depending on a host of factors the Court will weigh, you may get alimony for a set time, or for a lifetime, or none at all. But the overarching goal of alimony is to preserve the standard of living for the dependant spouse so that he or she may be kept in the manner in which the spouse become accustomed during the marriage.

Where there are children the Court will determine child custody and support. Parties involved in custody litigation must now participate in child custody mediation. A mediator employed by the State convenes the mediation–no lawyers are present–and the parties are encouraged to settle the custody dispute in the interest of the children to avoid litigation which might harm them emotionally. Sometimes this procedure is successful, but the parties are not required to reach any settlement and the matter often goes on the court. I find that if the custody hearings are handled properly the impact on the children is minimally more than the impact of the divorce alone. The Court sternly frowns on parents who use the children to get back at the other spouse. The Court will be looking instead to find the situation which is in the best interest of the minor child or children. Once custody and visitation are determined the Court will consider the proportion of time spent by each parent with the children, consider the respective incomes of the parties and set child support in an amount consistent with the North Carolina Child Support Guidelines. This becomes the order of the Court and can be enforced by Criminal Contempt for non-payment. Almost universally the parent getting visitation thinks that the child support he/she pays is inordinately high and the party receiving support thinks it is far too low. The non-custodial party (the one getting visitation) will also have to provide health insurance on the child in addition to the child support.

Support can be changed from time to time based on substantial, material changed circumstances.

Equitable Distribution is the North Carolina legal term for division of the assets in a marriage. The Court allows evidence of the value of all the property, both real and personal, owned by the parties at the time of the physical separation. Property acquired by the parties during the marriage are split between the parties presumptively equally, but the Court may, upon a finding of justifiable circumstances, make the split unequal. Property owned by a spouse before the marriage or acquired outside the marriage, such as from an inheritance, will be considered “separate property” and will be set aside to rightful owner accordingly.

All of the above factors can be worked out without need to file the action in Court (except for the actual divorce on one year’s separation) by use of a document called a Separation Agreement. Bear in mind that the document is what it says: it is an agreement between two parties, so the terms must basically be agreed to before the document is drawn, else someone will have paid for a document that does no one any good. Still, if the parties can objectively work out the terms of a Separation Agreement, this binding document can dispose of all the domestic issues and be far less expensive in money and emotional wear and tear on the parties and on the children. It can also be attached to the Absolute Divorce and will become a binding order, enforceable by the contempt powers of the Court.

During this stressful period of your life remember than sanity will return. We can help you get through it. You will almost surely regain even a certain civility and mutual courtesy which will make your actions and decisions regarding your children easier to manage.

One year and a day after the physical separation, you are entitled in North Carolina to a Divorce Absolute. Often we can handle this matter without your even having to come to court.

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