Ending a marriage poses numerous financial and personal challenges. Property division and child custody are among the complicated family law issues that may arise during a North Carolina divorce.

Divorce basics

For divorce eligibility, spouses had to live in North Carolina for six months and separately from each other for at least 12 consecutive months before filing. North Carolina is a no-fault divorce state, so spouses do not have to charge grounds for divorce.

When a court orders separation before the divorce is finalized, however, fault plays a role. In these cases, a spouse may lose estate rights and other rights. The grounds for fault are abandonment, forced departure from a spouse’s residence, intolerable humiliation, cruel and endangering treatment, substance abuse and adultery.

Property division

In North Carolina, any property acquired by either spouse during their marriage is marital property. Both spouses have an equal claim to this property. Debts acquired during marriage are also marital property.

Marital property does not include any property that a spouse had before marriage. This is separate property owned solely by that spouse. Separate property also includes assets that were inherited or received as a gift during their marriage. But gifts between spouses are marital property.

Courts will usually divide a married couple’s assets equally. However, several other things may be considered. These factors include the spouse’s income, property, debts, child or spousal support from earlier marriages, which spouse keeps their home, the spouse’s efforts to earn the property, a spouse’s contribution to the other spouse’s income and the property’s liquidity. Any actions or fault for the divorce are not considered unless these led to an estate’s loss of value.

401(k) and IRA plans

A retirement plan, such as a 401(k) or IRA, obtained during marriage is marital property in a divorce. These are divided equally like other marital property. But this division is limited to the pension or retirement plan’s value that was built up during their marriage.

Any savings before or after marriage is classified as the spouse’s personal property. The court will issue a qualified domestic relations order after it rules on the division of these plans.

Child support

Regardless of custody, both parents bear the responsibility for their children’s support in North Carolina. The noncustodial parent must pay support until their child reaches 18. If that child is in primary or secondary school, that parent must pay support until the child graduates or turns 20, whichever occurs first. Judges may determine fault while making support decisions.

Child support pays for basic living expenses such as food, clothing and housing. It also covers other expenses as health care, health insurance and travel expenses for parent visitations.

Spousal support

In some cases, courts may award alimony to the recipient spouse. Fault for the divorce may play a role in the court’s decision.

Courts also consider several other things while determining whether spousal support I appropriate. These include spouses’ earnings and earnings potential, their health and age, income sources, marriage length, spouse’s support for the other party’s education, the financial impact of child custody on each spouse’s earnings potential, each spouse’s property brought to their marriage, each spouse’s needs and each spouse’s homemaking contributions.

Spouses face many decisions on these issues during a very difficult time in their lives. An attorney can provide them options and help assure that the divorce decree is fair and reasonable.