North Carolina, like every other state in the US, has its own set of rules and regulations that govern the division of marriage property when two spouses divorce. These guidelines serve as a foundation to rely on when emotions run high and as individuals struggle to think clearly while making some of the most important decisions of their lives. One commonly held belief is that there is a set period of marriage time required by the state before someone is entitled to another’s split of the marital assets. Understanding more about North Carolina divorce law can help to clear up what is true and what remains false.
North Carolina follows the divorce principle of “equitable distribution” with no exceptions. This means that a court will be forced to divide marital property in a manner that is fair and equitable but not necessarily an equal split down the middle.
For example, consider this fictitious scenario with a couple named John and Doreen, who have been married for 14 years. Doreen has been the primary breadwinner for the majority of the marriage, while John stayed home to help raise their children. During the course of their marriage, they acquired several valuable items, such as a house, two cars, a healthy retirement account, and a small savings fund.
An equal split during divorce would mean everything is split down the middle. This will not happen in North Carolina unless a prenuptial agreement was signed prior to the marriage. Under an equitable distribution state, the court might consider:
With these factors in play, the court could award John the family home to maintain stability for the children, even if Doreen played a huge role in the home’s down payment and mortgage compliance. Even though Doreen would not get the house, she could receive a larger portion of the retirement fund to ensure there is a reflection on her financial contributions to the family unit. This is just one example of how a court might execute an arrangement under equitable distribution in North Carolina.
There is no set tenure that a marriage needs to exist that will automatically grant them half of the marital assets. Rather, the court considers some of these factors in their final decision:
None of these factors guarantee any outcome but will be examined by the court to ensure that both parties are moving forward equitably.
The family home is one of the most contentious assets to resolve in many divorces. The court considers many different factors to assess which spouse makes the most sense to remain in the home and what other assets could be granted to the other spouse to achieve equity. A huge influence on this final decision will be where both spouses plan to live post-divorce. If one parent plans to remain in the same school district as where their children currently attend, the court may prioritize awarding the home to that parent to minimize the disruption that the kids may face if forced to switch schools.
There is no direct impact on the equitable distribution process in North Carolina based on who files first. The only advantage one might have for filing first is that they have extra time to gather supporting information and strategize with their attorney to make their case. Once it’s time for the court to review the divorce case, no consideration will be given to who filed first. They will rely on other traditional variables, such as financial contributions to the household and caretaking duties, to make these decisions.
A prenuptial agreement has the power to alter what a final asset distribution traditionally looks like in an equitable distribution state like North Carolina. This legally enforceable documentation supersedes the state’s distribution rules. It is an enticing option for someone entering a marriage who feels like they have more to lose if the relationship were to turn sour down the road. It can prevent someone from losing a house they plan to pay the majority of the mortgage for or ensure that their retirement account is not taken advantage of when they were the individual who contributed to it for years. Under certain circumstances, individuals may try to hide assets or coerce the agreement. If this is discovered, the prenuptial agreement could be found invalid and force the divorce to divide assets under equitable distribution.
Mediation is still a valid option for couples who feel they can still openly communicate and tackle the issue of asset division together. Working with a mediator, they will take a deep dive into everything that they own and figure out a way to split everything that leaves both parties feeling fair and validated. If this agreement is reached and the mediator has signed off on the agreement, the court will generally honor it. This can speed up the divorce process and allow both parties to move on faster with less contention.
If you have made the difficult decision to advance a divorce case in North Carolina and need legal representation, The Law Offices of Aimee E. Cain is available to support you on your journey. For years, we have handled some of the most challenging asset division cases with care and professionalism, leaving our clients satisfied and empowered in their post-marriage lives. Contact us today and see how we can help you, too.