Divorce and Family Law
Many people use the word “divorce” to describe what we do, and that’s really not true. Our jobs neither start nor end with divorce. An actual absolute divorce is typically a separate action, filed no sooner than one year and one day after you physically separate from your spouse. Generally, everything that goes along with divorce – like equitable distribution, alimony, child support and child custody – will have already been addressed in a separate lawsuit or in a separation agreement long before you file for divorce. Furthermore, obtaining an absolute divorce rarely ends your case. Negotiating and/or litigating issues related to child custody, child support, equitable distribution and alimony may continue thereafter, as well as finalizing settlement documents or Orders related thereto. Divorce is just a very small, and relatively easy, part of what we do.
Child Custody: We handle child custody regardless of whether you were ever married to your child’s other parent. Custody cases can be filed by either parent, and typically need to be filed in the county in which the minor child resides most of the time. (Take a look at the map of counties in which we currently have active cases). Come meet with one of our attorneys to discuss the implications of a custody agreement versus a court order dictating custody, as every custody situation is unique.
Child Support: Unlike alimony, North Carolina does have a formula for child support so long as you and your child’s other parent earn less than $360,000.00 annually combined. Even if you earn less than $360,000.00 annually combined, however, there are certain factors that may mean that the amount dictated by the North Carolina Child Support Guidelines (which you can find here) may not apply to you. Our attorneys can walk you through what those factors are and whether they will apply in your case.
Contempt: Violation of a court order is called contempt. Contempt of a court order can have serious consequences. We handle contempt matters where the opposing party has violated a court order and also represent clients who are accused of contempt.
Breach of Separation Agreement/Specific Performance: Violation of a separation agreement requires filing a court action for breach of contract and potentially specific performance of the agreement. It’s important to meet with one of our attorneys to discuss the likelihood of success in filing a breach of separation agreement action when your child’s other parent is not abiding by the custody or child support terms. As every separation agreement is different, a lawsuit for breach of contract can be very tricky and we can help you decide whether the violation is truly considered “breach” and what the court will be able and willing to do about it.
Modification of Custody and Support: Life is always changing. The custody or support arrangement you had with your child’s other parent three years ago may not be working now. We can help you decide if it’s time to ask the court to modify your current arrangement. Keep in mind that modifying child custody or child support outlined in a court order is a very different process than modifying child custody or child support which is outlined in a separation agreement. Our attorneys can talk you through the process and the likelihood of success regardless of whether you’re starting from a separation agreement or a court order.
Grandparents’ Rights: We frequently have grandparents come talk to us about asking a court for custody of their grandchildren. There are limited circumstances under which a grandparent can have custody of a grandchild, but we can help you understand whether your circumstances would allow you to ask a court for, and be granted, custody of your grandchildren. If your circumstances do allow for custody of your grandchildren, we can walk you through the necessary steps and help you obtain custody.
Paternity and Legitimation: Establishing paternity of and/or legitimating a child born to unmarried couples is an important part of what we do. Both mothers and fathers seek our assistance in completing this process, and we’d love to walk you through the benefits of seeking a determination of paternity or legitimating a child.
Step-Parent Adoptions: There are certain situations in which a step-parent adopting a step-child is an option that makes sense for the whole family. Typically, you will need permission from both of the child’s biological parents in order to do this, but that is not always the case. We can assist you in determining if this is an option, and if so, how to complete a step-parent adoption.
Adult Adoptions: Sometimes we have clients who have served in a parental or caregiving role for a child for their whole life, or for a large majority of it, without legally being their parent. Once the child reaches the age of majority, they can consent to being adopted by their lifelong caregivers. Sometimes this choice is made for reasons of inheritance, and sometimes it’s simply for the purpose of making their family feel complete. Regardless of the reasons, we are happy to help you decide if adult adoption is a good option for your family.
Termination of Parental Rights: Terminating a parent’s rights to their children is an incredibly difficult task, and for a good reason. Termination of parental rights has constitutional implications and is not taken lightly by the courts. Most termination cases are pursued by child protective services or the department of social services when a parent has neglected, abused or abandoned a child. Sometimes, however, one parent elects to ask the courts to terminate the other parent’s parental rights. The standard for terminating parental rights is incredibly difficult to meet, but our attorneys can talk you through the likelihood that you would be successful, and the benefits and consequences associated with termination.
Surrogacy: If you are embarking on the journey of becoming a parent by way of surrogacy, it is important that you understand your rights, the surrogate mother’s rights, and the most effective way to make sure those rights are outlined properly before you begin the relationship. We can help you understand the decisions you need to make before engaging in this relationship, and what can and cannot be contracted for.
Storage of Eggs or Embryos: We have clients that decide that they would like to store eggs and/or embryos for future use. Both of these issues come with legal implications, and it is important to understand your rights and responsibilities and what you need to ask the facility storing your eggs or embryos, and what you need to discuss with the other parent if you are storing embryos for later use.
Name Changes: After an absolute divorce, many women desire to change their names back to their maiden name. Further, sometimes individuals decide for various reasons that they desire to change their names or their children’s names. The process of changing a name is simple if it’s to resume a maiden name, but is quite complicated if the name change is being sought for any other reason. Not only is the process frequently complicated, but changing a child’s name typically requires consent from both parents which can be a hurdle. We’re happy to meet with you to discuss whether a name change is a suitable option and how the process will go.
Equitable Distribution: Equitable distribution is the term we use for dividing a married couple’s assets once they decide to separate and ultimately divorce. This, as discussed below, can be done by a court order or a contract called a separation and property settlement agreement. Typically, equitable distribution is ONLY available to couples that were married and is not available to couples that lived together but never married. North Carolina does not recognize common law marriage (however, in some cases, North Carolina will recognize a valid common law marriage from another state).
Contempt: Violation of a court order is called contempt. Not only do we handle contempt of court orders outlining an equitable distribution or property settlement we helped obtain, we also handle contempt of court orders entered years ago or entered with the help of other attorneys.
Breach of Separation Agreement/Specific Performance: Violation of a separation agreement related to equitable distribution or property settlement requires filing a court action for breach of contract and potentially specific performance. It’s important to meet with one of our attorneys to discuss the likelihood of success in filing a breach of separation agreement action. As every separation agreement is different, a lawsuit for breach of contract can be very tricky and we can help you decide whether the violation is truly considered “breach” and what the court will be able and willing to do about it.
Property Settlement Between Unmarried Couples: While the law does not have specific provisions for how to handle property distribution between parties who were never married but combined assets and purchased assets together, our attorneys can counsel you on your rights related to dividing assets when you break up with a significant other.
Postseparation Support: Postseparation Support is a term we use that essentially means “temporary alimony”. Sometimes a dependent spouse can ask the court to award them temporary support before there is a full hearing on alimony. This can be helpful when the time required to figure out both spouses’ income would mean months of waiting, but one spouse needs expedited financial assistance from the other spouse.
Alimony: Alimony is one of the most difficult issues we handle on a daily basis as North Carolina does not have a “formula” for alimony. Typically, every alimony situation is completely different. Whether you’re settling out of court or going in front of a Judge, your attorney has to consider a laundry list of factors including, but not limited to, whether, and for how long one spouse was dependent on the other financially, why one spouse was dependent on the other, how much money you and your spouse each earn, how long you were married, your accustomed standard of living, marital misconduct… and the list goes on. Our attorneys have settled and tried hundreds of alimony cases and can talk you through each of the factors, what those mean for your case, and the likelihood that you would receive or have to pay alimony.
Modification of Alimony: In some instances, an alimony award can be modified. Modifiability depends on whether the alimony is outlined in a separation agreement or a court order, and what the terms of the separation agreement and court order say. We can help you assess whether modification is a realistic possibility and outline the process to ask for a modification whether you are receiving alimony or paying alimony.
Contempt: Violation of a court order is called contempt. Not only do we handle contempt of court orders outlining an alimony obligation we helped to establish, we also handle contempt of court orders entered years ago or entered with the help of other attorneys.
Breach of Separation Agreement/Specific Performance: Violation of a separation agreement related to alimony requires filing a court action for breach of contract, and potentially specific performance of the agreement. It’s important to meet with one of our attorneys to discuss the likelihood of success in filing a breach of separation agreement action. As every separation agreement is different, a lawsuit for breach of contract can be very tricky and we can help you decide whether the violation is truly considered “breach” and what the court will be able and willing to do about it.
Separation Agreements: We always hope that our clients will be able to settle the issues arising out of their separation and divorce outside of court. While we spend a lot of time in court and are very comfortable doing so, it’s a very costly and time-consuming process that ultimately leads to an individual who knows a limited amount of information about your life (the Judge) making decisions about how you’re going to live your life. Separation agreements are a great tool to resolve all of the issues arising out of your separation from your spouse. Keep in mind that separation agreements are not an option for parties that were never married, and are typically not recommended to outline child support and child custody, but any one of our attorneys can talk you through entering into a separation agreement, and options for settling all issues outside of court.
Consent Orders: We are always hopeful that our clients can settle their family law issues outside of court. Depending on the nature of your case, we may advise you to settle all matters in a consent order instead of a separation agreement. Further, if you were never married to your spouse and deciding issues of child support and child custody, a separation agreement is not an option. Even if you were married, we frequently do not advise settling child custody and child support in a separation agreement for a myriad of reasons. Any one of our attorneys can talk you through the process of entering a consent order, whether your case is already in litigation or whether you’re just now exploring separation.
Prenuptial/Premarital Agreements: The terms prenuptial and premarital mean the same thing – they refer to agreements entered into before two people get married. Prenuptial/premarital agreements are a great way to lay out guidelines for how finances and assets will be handled during and after marriage. We believe that premarital agreements are a great tool for allowing you to make decisions in the short term knowing that every financial decision you make during your marriage has implications in the long run. Prenuptial or premarital agreements can also give your family peace of mind knowing that assets you inherited, or will inherit, or money gifted to you by a family member will remain yours regardless of what happens down the road. Many couples that have children of their own before getting married also use prenuptial or premarital agreements to ensure that wealth accumulated before the marriage and for the benefit of their children, or assets which were obtained before the marriage and which will appreciate or be used by the newly married spouses, will be preserved for the benefit of a party’s children from before the marriage.
Postnuptial/Post-marital Agreements: Some married couples find themselves facing financial decisions during the marriage that they believe may have significant implications in an event of divorce. Postnuptial or post-marital agreements allow both parties to agree, in writing, to a binding disposition of certain assets should the parties ultimately get divorced. Postnuptial or post-marital agreements are also useful for preserving gifts or inheritances from family members that were obtained during the marriage and which the parties want to make joint use of, but which should ultimately belong to the spouse who originally received the gift or inheritance.
Fortunately, North Carolina’s laws allow for same-sex couples to enjoy the same benefits as opposite-sex couples when it comes to marriage, divorce, child, custody, child support, and all of the other issues that flow from marriage and divorce. We welcome the opportunity to advocate for our clients involved in same-sex relationships whether they are entering into or ending a formal marriage, or whether they’re involved in a relationship but are not married. Not only do we have experience in representing clients involved in same-sex relationships, but our diverse family of lawyers and staff include individuals that are involved in same-sex relationships, both married and unmarried. If you would feel more comfortable working with an attorney or staff member who has a same-sex partner, please feel free to make us aware of this preference. We want to stress that all of our attorneys and staff are well-versed in the nuances of the law as it applies to same-sex couples and their legal rights. We want you to feel comfortable and confident that your advocate truly understands you, and we are confident that we have the right people to make that happen.
Domestic Violence: While it is our hope that our clients can always talk through their issues with their spouse or significant other, we have experience representing plaintiffs in pursuing domestic violence orders of protection and in helping individuals defend against domestic violence orders of protection. We can help you understand the benefits and consequences of seeking an order, defending yourself against someone seeking a domestic violence order of protection against you, or potentially settling with the other party in another manner.
Civil Restraining Orders: Sometimes we have clients that are seeking, or defending, a claim for a restraining order unrelated to a prior romantic partner. Sometimes this is a new partner’s prior significant other, a neighbor, or a co-worker. We can walk you through the likelihood of being able to obtain or defend a restraining order, and what the process will look like.
While a majority of the states have abolished causes of action for Alienation of Affections and Criminal Conversation, North Carolina still recognizes these tort claims against a third-party who causes the breakdown of a marriage. Alienation of Affections and Criminal Conversation are complicated claims, and our attorneys can walk you through what you’d have to be able to prove in order to succeed on these claims, as well as whether or not it makes sense for you to pursue them.
Many retirement plans require that the Court enter a Qualified Domestic Relations Order before the retirement account can be split. Qualified Domestic Relations Orders can be entered by consent, even if your case has not gone through the Court and was instead settled in a Separation Agreement or a Consent Order. Each retirement plan has different and specific requirements for the contents of a Qualified Domestic Relations Order, so let us help you with your Qualified Domestic Relations Order so that you can finalize the distribution of retirement accounts.