Family Law

FAMILY LAW

Divorce, custody, and other related matters can be emotionally draining. Numerous decisions have to be made which impact your financial future and the future of your children.

As Christian attorneys, we believe all people are made in God's image.  Each person has unique and valuable qualities about them. We promise to treat you with the same care and respect we expect for ourselves.

We also represent families embroiled in DSS investigations.  Many people are confused as to what their rights are with DSS.  Click here to review some of our frequently asked questions.

In what geographic areas do you work?

Our office is located in downtown Wilmington, North Carolina. We accept clients from surrounding counties within reasonable driving distance.


DIVORCE

A divorce is likely the biggest financial and emotional event that you will encounter. Every marriage is unique and likewise every divorce has its own issues that must be resolved. If there are no children, major assets, or debts involved, a divorce may be simple and straightforward and is sometimes handled without the assistance of counsel. Keep in mind that a divorce will be the final, legal end to the marriage and will settle all issues that are part of the marriage, so you need to be sure that you fully understand your rights and how any divorce settlement will impact you now and in the future.

Do I need to have fault grounds to get a divorce?

No. In North Carolina, an absolute divorce legally terminates the marriage. Parties may be granted an absolute divorce without fault grounds after one year of living separately and apart with the intent that the separation will be permanent. North Carolina also allows for fault-based divorce from bed and board. Marital faults by one or both parties may impact the determination of items such as alimony and support. These issues are discussed in more detail below.

North Carolina typically mandates mediation before a divorce action is heard by the court. If the parties agree on the terms of the divorce the matter may be handled without requiring a trial, or the court may hear only those items on which the parties cannot agree. An uncontested divorce is easier financially and emotionally on everyone involved. We strive to reach negotiated settlements whenever possible and believe that an acceptable settlement is always better than the uncertainty of trial. However, this is not always an option when dealing with some spouses (and their attorneys).  Our attorneys have significant trial experience and can comfortably bring your case to a full hearing on the merits if needed.

For more information on divorce, check out our Resources page.


SEPARATION

What is a separation agreement?

Your divorce will include either a separation agreement or a court ordered separation. A separation agreement is a contract that is negotiated between you and your spouse that settles all of your property issues such as who gets what real estate, personal property and debts. It also settles issues of custody, visitation, alimony, and support. This agreement can be entered into at anytime prior to the court granting an absolute divorce, but it is usually best to finalize these issues as soon as possible. When you hear about long and brutal divorce battles, they happen because the parties could not, or would not, agree to the terms of a separation agreement. This takes the control of the issues away from the parties and places it with the court

How will you help me get a separation agreement?

As part of our consulation, we review all the facts and explain to you (and to your spouse/attorney if in negotiation) how the court will view the issue and how it is likely to rule. Remember, a settlement you can live with is almost always preferable to relying on the judgment of the court.

How is marital property divided?

North Carolina uses equitable distribution to divide assets and debts. There is the presumption that an equal (50/50) division is considered to be equitable. Fault grounds are not considered by the court in distribution, however, there are factors that can change the percentage of distribution to favor one spouse. Some of these factors include both spouses' income and debts, the duration of the marriage and age of the parties, needs of a parent with regards to children, contributions of one spouse to the educational or career development of the other, and tax consequences to both. North Carolina also classifies property as separate or marital, and considers property such as vested pensions, investment income, and royalties as potentially distributable. Computations for couple with diverse assets can be very complex.

How will you help figure out who gets what?

Our attorneys have a firm grasp on forensic accounting and can track assets, money, and even hidden funds to put together an extensive picture of the assets and debts of a marriage.  From this, we can construct a fair and accurate settlement. Your strongest weapon in an action for equitable distribution is to have total command of the numbers. Your spouse may lie, but the numbers never do.

For more information on separation, check out our Resources page.


CUSTODY

How will the court decide custody?

Factors that the court can consider include anything that may improve or impinge on the development of the child's physical, mental, emotional, moral, and spiritual faculties. This is pretty broad. The court will look at each parent's caretaking capacity and past conduct, the home environment of each, the child's bonding with each parent and other siblings (or step-siblings), alcohol use and drug use, and any domestic violence history of either parent. Pretty much any factors that contribute to the welfare of the child are at play and the court has wide latitude in how it considers all factors.

Is there a presumption for or against me the mother?

North Carolina does not recognize any presumption for or against either parent. Although the presumption favoring the mother during a child's "tender years" has been abolished by statute, some courts still favor the mother when a child is very young, especially if the mother has been the child's primary caregiver.

Can I recover my attorney's fees in a custody action?

North Carolina statutes allow the trial court to award reasonable attorney's fees to a party that is acting in good faith and has insufficient means to defray the expenses of a custody suit. This remedy is available whether you win or lose your case, however, the court is not required to make such an award. It is in the discretion of the court.

What about visitation?

Unless a parent is unfit or unsafe, the court usually determines that substantial time with both parents is in the child's best interest. This usually results in substantial visitation time with the child being awarded to the non-custodial parent. This can take many forms including weeknight and alternating weekend visitation, alternating week visitation, and summer blocks of visitation. Holidays are also important considerations in determining visitation. Visitation is typically best figured out and agreed to by the parents, if possible. This allows a visitation agreement to fit the schedules of the parents and the child to the highest extent possible. If a parent is not fit to have visitation, the court may order supervised visitation.

For more information on custody, check out our Resources page.


SUPPORT

Fault grounds are not a factor in an award of PSS.

Alimony is a longer term support by which the supporting spouse is required to pay to the dependent spouse a set amount for a set period of time. This is meant to be rehabilitative in order for the dependent spouse to reach a point where she is able to manage her own expenses. This often occurs when one spouse stays home to raise children or to support the other spouses' education or career, leaving one spouse more qualified to earn. Alimony continues for the period set by the court, which is based on factors such as the length of the marriage and the other factors considered in determining PSS. Alimony also ceases when a party dies or cohabitates. It is important to note that marital faults are considered in the alimony analysis. In fact, adultery by the dependent spouse is a bar to an award of alimony.

Child support is payment ordered to be paid by the non-custodial parent to the custodial parent to provide for the needs of a minor child or children of the marriage. In North Carolina, both parents are responsible for the care and expenses of their children. Child support is less discretionary than alimony and PSS. The court will follow established guidelines based upon the income of both parties and the overall support needs of the child to determine the amount of child support to be ordered unless the parties earn in excess of $300,000 per year. Basically, each parent is charged with a proportional amount of the overall support and the non-custodial parent is ordered to pay his share to the custodial parent. Child support can be modified upon changed conditions such as a change in income of the supporting parent or the change in need of the child. A child support obligation continues until the child reaches the age of eighteen, or if the child is still in secondary school, until the child reaches the age of twenty.

My ex is intentionally not working to avoid paying me support. What can I do?

The courts are aware that this problem exists and can impute income to a spouse or parent who is voluntarily unemployed to use in the support analysis. Such imputation will be made based upon the party's earning history and potential to earn. This remedy is available for post-separation support as well as child support.

I am separating and need to keep my health insurance. What can I do?

The court may award that the supporting spouse continue health insurance coverage for the dependent spouse and children as part of a PSS award. The court also may award a monetary payment to the dependent spouse so that they may purchase insurance to cover their needs.

My ex withholds child support payments in order to punish me. What can I do?

Some parents play this deplorable game to get a feeling of control or vengeance, even at the expense of their child/children. The North Carolina DHHS Child Support Services will aid in the collection of child support, requiring that the payments be made through their agency or requiring withholding from the supporting parent's wages, unemployment benefits, social security, and disability benefits, as well as income tax returns. More information is available at NCDHHS.gov. There are also civil and criminal penalties if a supporting parent fails to pay child support including loss of driver's license, fines, and jail time. The courts look seriously upon failure to pay child support and a parent who is not receiving ordered payments has several avenues for relief.

My spouse is accusing me of adultery. Can I still receive alimony?

This depends on whether or not such adultery can be proven. In civil court the standards of proof are lower than in criminal court so this may be a costly concern. It is best that we sit down and discuss all of the facts of the matter. Adultery is a bar to alimony, with limited exceptions.

For more information on support, check out our Resources page.


This page contains an overview of common divorce related concerns. Each person's situation is unique and must be looked at from all angles to find the best solutions for you. An initial consultation is a great step in making a plan to resolve your divorce and all of its issues. We look forward to the opportunity to meet you and discuss your unique situation. Click here to schedule an initial consultation today.

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The first step in resolving your issue is to become informed. I look forward to meeting with you to listen to your concerns and to help you plan the best way to deal with whatever you are facing. Click below to schedule an initial consultation now.

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