Family law deals with a wide variety of family issues such as divorce, marriage, adoption, child support, among many others. The laws are designed to protect the interests of the institution of the family. Still, family law issues are some of the most emotionally taxing and stressful of any area of law.
Long after the divorce is finalized, issues surrounding child custody, spousal support, and other important matters may arise. The ongoing nature of the issues can make it feel like the divorce was never finalized. More than ever, it is a time when you need sound counsel from an experienced, and compassionate Charlotte family law attorney such as our team at Waple & Houk.
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What Qualifies as a Family Law Case?
A family law case is a type of civil case, but generally involves issues concerning or between spouses, children, and parents. Here are the most common types of family law cases that our Charlotte family law attorneys handle:
Contested and Uncontested Divorce
If ending your marriage is in your best interests for you as a couple, having the representation of a family law attorney from Waple & Houk can help the divorce case proceed smoothly towards a successful resolution whether it is a contested or uncontested divorce. We have the experience, skills, and knowledge to work out the best possible resolutions for our clients in divorce cases.
Parental Rights, Child Custody, and Child Support
Child custody, child support, and parental rights can be some of the most contentious issues in divorce cases and may severely impact the whole family, particularly the children. At Waple & Houk, we always strive to find the best resolution regarding all these matters that’s in the best interests of the children.
Spousal Support and Alimony Agreements
Separating from a spouse can be a difficult and particularly challenging time especially if you are left to shoulder financial burdens that were previously shared alone. Waple & Houk can help protect your interest in spousal support whether you are defending a claim against it or seeking support from it.
Legal Name Changes
A name is something that gives you a sense of identity. The vast majority of people usually keep the first name they were born with throughout their lives. When it comes to women, however, a change of the last name is usually only associated with marriage or divorce.
Still, there are other instances when a name change becomes very important to an individual or family. The legal process to do so, however, can be sometimes confusing and has varying requirements depending on your specific situation.
If you or a loved one wants to change their name legally, now is the time to seek legal guidance to ensure a seamless process. At Waple & Houk, we are ready to help you obtain a legal name change for several reasons, such as:
- Adopting a child
- A wife adopting the husband’s name long after the marriage occurs
- Husband adopting the wife’s name upon marriage
- Reverting to your maiden name after you are divorced
- Religious reasons
- Desire for a less or more ethnic name
- If you dislike your current name
Protecting victims of abuse is always a top priority and a restraining order can be a perfect tool for doing just that. If you or a minor child in your custody is a victim of verbal, physical, or sexual harassment or abuse, you need to get in touch with Waple & Hou. We will work diligently to get the protection that you need.
Under North Carolina law, the Division of Social Services (DSS) is responsible for investigating reports of child neglect and abuse. If you or the other parent of your child is being investigated by the DSS, you need to contact the experienced lawyers at Waple & Houk. We will guide you through the investigation while ensuring that your rights and those of your child are protected.
What Are the Grounds for Divorce in North Carolina?
It is important to note that North Carolina recognizes two forms of divorce, although one is somewhat superior to the other. They are:
- Absolute Divorce
- Divorce from Bed and Board
Absolute divorce is the type that most people refer to when talking about divorce in North Carolina. It is essentially a complete and final end to a marriage that’s typically accompanied by a court order that’s known as a Decree of Divorce.
North Carolina law recognizes only 2 grounds for absolute divorce:
Incurable Insanity: If a married couple has been living apart and separately for 3 years due to the one spouse’s incurable insanity, the court may grant an absolute divorce. However, incurable insanity must be proven by expert testimony from 2 doctors.
Separation for 1 Year: Absolute divorce may be granted to either spouse if the married couple has been living apart and separately for 1 year. One of the spouses must also have been a North Carolina resident for 6 months immediately prior to filing the Complaint for Absolute Divorce.
Divorce from Bed and Board/Legal Separation
If you are going through a contested divorce, you may choose to obtain a legal separation. A legal separation, which is also referred to as a divorce from bed and board requires establishing that the defending spouse committed at least 1 of these 6 acts:
- Committed adultery
- Regularly used drugs or alcohol excessively
- Engaged in behavior that made the life of their spouse “burdensome”
- Endangered the life of the complaining spouse
- Threw the complaining spouse out of the home
- Abandoned the family
It is still important to note, however, that you are still required to obtain an Absolute Divorce to officially end your marriage in North Carolina even if the court grants your request for a divorce from a bed and board.
How Do You Start the Divorce Process?
If you are ready to divorce your spouse in North Carolina, you need to follow certain procedures. Before rushing to the courthouse to file for divorce, you must first meet the eligibility requirements. Specifically, you or your spouse must have been separated for at least 1 year and lived in the state for at least 6 months prior to filing for divorce.
The formal divorce process, however, starts with filing a “Complaint for Absolute Divorce” with the court. If you file the complaint, you will be known as the Plaintiff while the responding spouse will be the Defendant. Once you file the complaint and file the filing fees, you will need to serve a copy of the complaint on the other spouse either by the sheriff or any other approved form of service.
How Does the Division of Property Work in North Carolina?
The division of property in North Carolina refers to an agreement between two divorcing parties and is known as a property settlement. Not all couples may find it necessary to have the court involved in property distribution. If the court is involved in the property distribution, however, the parties will need to work through the court-mandated steps.
3 Classifications for Property in North Carolina
The actual process of property division often takes time since the court must first identify all the property owned by both parties, classify it into 1 of the 3 categories, and then assess its value before it is divided. North Carolina uses the following 3 categories:
Marital Property: It includes all presently-owned property acquired by the couple during the marriage.
Separate Property: It comprises several subcategories of assets such as property acquired by one spouse during the marriage by inheritance or gift from a third party, and any property owned by either spouse prior to the marriage.
Divisible Property: It also includes several smaller categories of assets, such as income from marital property that either spouse received after separation, and changes in value (positive and negative) experienced by any of the couple’s marital assets or debts after the date of separation.
The process of property distribution by the court is known as equitable distribution. Equitable distribution assumes that an equal (50/50) division of the marital property is equitable. The vast majority of judges in NC favor awarding each party 50 percent of the marital property unless other factors make a strong case for unequal distribution, such as:
- Income-earning potential
- The health of one spouse
- A spouse’s business or unvested pension interests
How Is Child Custody Decided?
The child custody laws in North Carolina are aimed at protecting the child. Under those laws, family courts typically have jurisdiction when it comes to custody cases and award custody on the basis of the child’s best interests.
It is up to the court to determine whether joint or sole custody is appropriate. The court cannot favor one parent over the other on the basis of financial status or gender without first considering the child’s overall best interests along with other relevant facts about the parent-child relationship. The court may grant joint custody as long as the welfare of the child is secure.
North Carolina child custody laws are very complex, which is why you should always consult an experienced Charlotte family law attorney when contemplating a separation or divorce and face child custody issues. If you attempt to navigate those issues on your own, you might end up jeopardizing your rights and the interests of your child.
What Is Alimony and How Is It Decided?
Alimony, which is also known as spousal support, refers to the court-ordered provision of financial support to a spouse following a divorce.
North Carolina is unique when compared to most other states when it comes to how alimony between two spouses is treated and determined. The state has no set guidelines for determining alimony and what’s awarded typically varies depending on the judge assigned to a specific case.
Alimony is typically not awarded in many family law cases in NC. A spouse is required to prove his/her status as a dependent for alimony to be awarded. If both spouses earn relatively similar incomes, it is highly unlikely that either spouse will be regarded as dependent and awarded alimony.
Alimony, however, can be awarded if one spouse earns significantly more than the other spouse. The court then determines the amount and duration of alimony obligations for the dependent spouse.
The amount and duration of an alimony award in North Carolina are based on different factors, such as:
- Dependent spouse’s educational background
- Dependent spouse’s standard of living
- Ability of a spouse to pay alimony
- Reasonable needs of each spouse
- Length of the marriage
- Marital misconduct (adultery, substance abuse, abandonment, etc.)
Judges in North Carolina exercise a lot of discretion when determining the alimony to be awarded based on the factors above. In general, the longer the marriage, the longer the duration of the alimony payments. Spouses that earn high incomes can also expect to pay significantly more in alimony compared to spouses that earn modest to low incomes.
The alimony laws in North Carolina may result in widely different outcomes in each case. That’s why it is important for the spouse seeking alimony and the spouse defending against it to get help from an experienced Charlotte family law attorney such as our team at Waple & Houk.
Contact Our Charlotte Family Law Attorneys Today
If there’s one resource that you should always have when navigating a family law issue is an experienced family law on your side to explain the process, advocate for your rights, and let you know all your options in family court.
If you have any questions regarding a family law issue in Charlotte, North Carolina, get in touch with Waple & Houk today. You can contact us either via phone at (704) 480-3899 or online to schedule a free consultation and case evaluation with one of our experienced family law attorneys.