The Law Office of Kimberly Lee, PLLC

Family Law Practice

​Civil Litigation

​Agreements

Divorce

​Alimony

Child Support

Custody

​Deeds & Wills

Absolute Divorce

 An absolute divorce in North Carolina is also known as an uncontested divorce or “no-fault” divorce.  The bonds of matrimony can be dissolved upon the application of either party after Husband and Wife have been legally separated for a period of one (1) year.

Alimony and Post Separation Support

In order for alimony or postseparation support to be awarded, the courts must first be given proof that there is a need for spousal support. There is no set formula or guideline calculation for post separation support and alimony.  As to post separation support, North Carolina General Statutes § 50-16.2A provides the following:

“In ordering post separation support, the court shall base its award on the financial needs of the parties, considering the parties accustomed standard of living, the present employment income and other recurring earnings of each party from any source, their income-earning abilities, the separate and marital debt service obligations, those expenses are reasonably necessary to support each of the parties, and each party’s respective legal obligations to support any other persons.”

 As to alimony, North Carolina General Statutes § 50-16.3A provides a list of sixteen (16) factors that the court looks at in determining and calculating an alimony award.  Some of the factors include:

Marital misconduct of either of the spouses
Relative earning capacities of the spouses
The ages and the physical, mental, and emotional conditions of the spouses
Duration of the marriage
Contribution by one spouse to the education, training, or increased earning power of the other spouse
Standard of living the spouses are accustomed to and established during the marriage
Property brought to the marriage by either spouse
Contribution of a spouse as homemaker
Any other factor relating to the economic circumstances of the parties that the court finds to be just and proper

 If a supporting spouse has committed an act of illicit sexual behavior, the dependent spouse is entitled to alimony. If the dependent spouse has committed an act of illicit sexual behavior prior to the parties’ separation, he or she will be barred from receiving alimony. If both spouses have committed acts of illicit sexual behavior during the marriage prior to a separation, then a judge must decide if the dependent spouse is entitled to receive alimony.

 Child Custody

One of the most hotly litigated issues that can arise during a divorce is child custody and visitation. North Carolina law provides that custody determinations are to be made under the “best interests of the child” standard. No presumption exists between a mother and a father as to who better promotes the best interest of the child.

After hearing evidence, the judge (not a jury) will decide how the parents, will make major decisions affecting the childrens’ lives and will establish an appropriate residential schedule for the children. “Joint custody” describes a joint decision-making arrangement whereby both parents make major decisions for the children. Typically, one parent will be designated as having primary physical custody with the other parent having secondary physical custody. A typical residential schedule for a parent having secondary physical custody provides that he or she will have the children on alternate weekends, one-half of the school holidays, and several weeks in the summer. It is not uncommon for the secondary physical custody parent to receive some mid-week visitation as well. Keep in mind, there is no set schedule, and courts welcome mutually agreeable residential agreements. These arrangements can change depending on the ability of the parties to communicate and work together as well as the age and development of the child.

 The Law Office of Kimberly Lee, PLLC can help with your custody dispute and work to ensure that the best interest of the children is served. We seek to resolve the contested issues without the need for litigation if at all possible consistent with the client’s objectives. However, if litigation becomes necessary we can provide effective and aggressive representation.


 Child Support

In North Carolina, parents have a legal duty to financially support their children until they reach 18 years of age and have graduated from high school. Child support arrangements must be fair for both the child and the parents.  The amount of support each parent is obligated to pay is generally based upon the proportion his or her income contributes toward the total income of the parties.  In most cases, the amount of child support a parent is obligated to pay is calculated according to the North Carolina Child Support Guidelines. In certain circumstances, these guidelines do not apply, and in those cases, child support will be calculated based upon the needs of the child and the ability of the parents to pay support.

Divorce from Bed and Board

 A divorce from bed and board is often a misunderstood term. A divorce from bed and board is a judicial separation granted by a court. It is not an absolute divorce and has certain limitations. A divorce from bed and board may be granted if either party:

Abandons the family;
Maliciously turns the other spouse out of doors;
Treats the other spouse in a cruel and barbarous manner; endangering his or her life;
Offers indignities to the person of the other spouse, rendering his or her condition intolerable and life burdensome;
Uses drugs or alcohol in excess; or
Commits adultery.  (N.C. Gen. Stat. §50-7)

 If the court finds that a spouse has committed one of these acts, the offending spouse may be ordered to leave the marital residence, although such relief is extraordinary. An order granting a divorce from bed and board terminates all automatic inheritance rights that exist by virtue of the marriage, however, remarriage is not permitted until an absolute divorce is granted.

 Domestic Violence

Domestic violence is a problem that does not discriminate; it is statistically consistent across all socio-economic and racial lines. Chapter § 50-B of the North Carolina General Statutes allows domestic violence victims to seek an order of protection against the offender.  Actions under §50-B can only be filed against persons with whom the aggrieved party has or had a familial relationship (current or former spouse, persons of the opposite sex with whom you have lived, parents, grandparents, etc.). Criminal remedies are also available.

Enforcement of Orders and Agreements

 If an Order has already been entered by the court, but the opposing party refuses to comply with the provisions of the Order, it may be enforced through contempt proceedings in which the court will assess whether the party violated the court order and then may enter sanctions, fines, imprisonment, attorney’s fees etc. depending upon the Judges findings and determinations.

A separation agreement that has not been incorporated into a court Order is not enforceable by contempt proceedings.  However, such unincorporated agreements are contracts which can be enforced in the same manner as any other contract through an action for breach of contract and monetary damages.  The equitable remedy of specific performance may also be available.

 Equitable Distribution of Property and Debts

During a marriage, husbands and wives generally acquire property, including but not limited to a home, cars, bank accounts, a business, IRA’s or stock options. North Carolina law provides for the division and distribution of this property.  Once a couple has separated, either party may ask the court for an “equitable distribution” which is the process of identifying, classifying, evaluating and distributing property. This process can be one of the most challenging areas of family law and it forces lawyers and judges to confront difficult and diverse issues. Hence, the process of equitable distribution takes organization, patience, time, problem solving skills, and the involvement of other competent professionals such as appraisers and accountants.

Modification of Child Support and Custody Orders

 If there have been changes in the needs of your children since entry of your child support Order resulting in a need for more or less support or if you feel as though you can no longer afford your child support payments, you may move to modify the child support Order. There must be a change of at least 15% of the amount of child support that was previously ordered for the court to consider modifying your child support.  Additionally, most child support orders can be reviewed every three (3) years.

Child custody modification can be sought in the event of a serious life change for one or both parents.  Child custody orders may need to be changed for many reasons, such as: change in child’s needs, interest, or activities as the child matures, relocation of a parent making the current schedule impractical, significant change in either parent’s work schedule, or situations of domestic abuse.

 Paternity

 N.C. Gen. Stat. §49-14 provides the legal mechanism to establish paternity when a child is born to unmarried parents. The action to establish paternity must be filed before the child’s eighteenth birthday and no action can be initiated after the death of the suspected father of the child except in special circumstances regarding the putative father’s estate.  In the event that a proceeding to establish paternity is brought more than three years after the birth of the child out of wedlock or after the death of the putative father, paternity must be established by a blood or genetic marker test. If paternity is not thereafter established, then the putative father shall be reimbursed the full amount of temporary support paid under the order. When paternity has been established, the father becomes responsible for medical expenses incident to the pregnancy and the birth of the child.

 Premarital Agreements

In North Carolina, premarital agreements are governed by the Uniform Premarital Agreement Act found in Chapter 52B of the North Carolina General Statutes. A premarital agreement is an agreement between prospective spouses made in contemplation of marriage and to be effective upon marriage. Premarital agreements must be in writing and signed by both parties. You and your prospective spouse may contract with respect to any rights you may have in the property of the other, how your property will be distributed in the event you separate, whether you or spouse will be entitled to receive alimony, and any other matter that is not in violation of public policy.

If you are thinking about getting married, you may need to decide whether a premarital agreement is right for you.

 Post Nuptial Agreements

 Husbands and wives can contract with each other during the marriage with respect to matters that are not inconsistent with public policy. The courts a have determined that Post-Nuptial Agreements made during the marriage which waive the right of a dependent spouse to support from his or her spouse is void as against public policy.  However, the law does permit spouses to contract with each other with respect to the disposition of both their real and personal property acquired during the marriage. §52-10 of the North Carolina General Statutes permits husbands and wives to release and quitclaim rights that they might acquire during the marriage in the property of the other, with or without valuable consideration.

 Same-Sex Marriage

Same-sex marriage became legally recognized in North Carolina on October 10, 2014. Therefore, the rights and privileges of marriage were made available to same-sex married couples. In gaining the right to marry in North Carolina, same-sex couples also gained the right to divorce here.  Before North Carolina recognized gay marriage, same-sex couples married in another state were unable to get divorced in North Carolina.

Separation and Property Settlement Agreements

The State of North Carolina does not require any specific paperwork to be filed in order to be separated.  However, when parties decide to separate, it is beneficial to have a legal contract in place that formalizes the separation. These contracts are commonly known as separation agreements. A separation agreement may simply acknowledge the parties’ intent to live separate and apart. It may also set forth various provisions such as a free trader clause, which allows a party the right to buy or sell real estate without the other party’s knowledge or consent, and a mutual waiver of the right to inherit from one another.  Additionally, separation agreements are commonly used to formalize mutually agreed upon terms for settlement. If parties have reached a resolution regarding terms of alimony, child custody, child support, property division, responsibility for joint debts, and any other issues arising out of the marriage, these terms can be incorporated into the agreement.  Settlement of disputed issues is generally preferable to litigation. If you and your spouse can agree to the terms of your separation and property division, then a separation and property settlement agreement may be the best option for you.