Who will get the kids?
An agreement between parents is always preferable to going to court and having a judge determine your custody arrangement. In an agreement, you and your spouse maintain control over exactly what your custody arrangement looks like and can consider any factors that affect your children’s best interests (like each of the parents’ work schedules, schooling arrangements, extracurricular activities, locations of each of the parents’ homes, the children’s ages and wishes, and so forth). Until there is a custody agreement between the parents, each parent has equal rights to custodial time with the children of the marriage.
When can my child choose the parent with whom they wish to reside?
There is no set age when children get to “choose” their custodial parent. The focus in determining a child custody agreement is what is in the best interest of the child. An older child or teenager’s wishes should be given considerable weight when determining a child custody arrangement with your spouse or the other parent. Teenagers who have their own lives including jobs and extracurricular activities and are able to drive are unlikely to follow a child custody arrangement with which they disagree. Forcing a teen to follow a custody arrangement with which they disagree is likely to cause more harm than good in your relationship with the child. A younger child’s wishes should be considered, but generally should not be determinative. Children often tell both parents they want to live with them. This is typically because children often wish they could have their “old life” back, living with both parents like they used to when their parents were together, and also because children want to please their parents, particularly in times of perceived stress and anxiety.
Is there a custodial preference for mothers over fathers?
No, there is not a custodial preference for mothers over fathers in North or South Carolina. Until a judge orders otherwise, or the parents agree otherwise, two married parents who are separating have equal rights to custody of their children. We have seen that children benefit from strong relationships with both of their parents. An experienced family law attorney can provide ample guidance to parents questioning what schedule might be in the best interests of their children, as there are many variations of parenting time schedules. The best schedule is the one that works well for your own family.
If parents share custody, does anyone pay child support?
It depends. The Child Support Guidelines in both North Carolina and South Carolina determine if and how much child support should be paid. The child support obligations are loosely based upon how many nights per year a child spends with each parent. In North Carolina, for example, child support for shared custody is determined by using the Child Support Guidelines “Worksheet B.” If parents share custody of the children equally, you enter in the following information on Worksheet B to determine if child support is owed:
Can I move?
Yes, you are legally able to move wherever you would like. If you have children, however, you may not have the legal right to bring them with you when you move. If there is no custody order or agreement in place, each parent has equal legal rights to the children. If you are separated and want to move the children out-of-state or far away from the other parent, you must inform the other parent and get their approval to take the kids with you. If the other parent does not agree and you move with the children anyway, the other parent could file for an emergency, expedited, or temporary order in court which could force you to bring the children back to their home state. If you move with the children and do not inform the other parent of the children’s whereabouts, the legal consequences could be dire. Courts take a parent’s constitutional right to parent his or her children very seriously and moving without informing the other parent is not likely to provide you with the outcome you desire in your custody case.
In most circumstances, it is best for children to have access to and a meaningful relationship with both of their parents. Moving children far away from one of their parents can have major legal and emotional consequences for you and for the children. Consult with an attorney for more information and guidance on your specific custody situation, as we understand these situations are nuanced and complicated.
My spouse cheated on me/I cheated on my spouse, how will that affect my case?
If you engage in a sexual relationship with someone who is not your spouse prior to your date of divorce, that is considered adultery in both North and South Carolina.
If you engage in a sexual relationship with someone who is not your spouse prior to separation (in North Carolina) or the signing of a final settlement agreement or date of divorce (in South Carolina), that act of adultery could result in significant legal and financial ramifications.
If you are the dependent spouse seeking alimony, but the supporting spouse has evidence you committed adultery, you will be barred from receiving alimony. On the other hand, if you are the supporting spouse, you committed adultery, and your spouse has evidence of the adultery, you will likely be required to pay alimony.
My spouse is moving in with his or her new partner (or I want to move in with mine); how does that affect my case?
To prove “cohabitation” in North Carolina, the supporting spouse must show that a dependent spouse is living with someone else in a romantic relationship that provides economic benefits similar to those that are provided in a marriage relationship.
“Cohabitation” in South Carolina is defined as when the supporting spouse can prove that the dependent spouse has resided with another person in a romantic relationship for more than 90 consecutive days.
If you are seeking to collect spousal support as a dependent spouse, but then move in with a new dating partner, you will likely not be eligible to receive spousal support. The reasoning behind this rule is that your former spouse should not have to provide financial support for you when you are living with another adult who can theoretically provide the same type of support. If you are currently receiving spousal support as a dependent spouse, but then begin cohabitating with your dating partner, spousal support will typically terminate.
If you are the supporting spouse and find out that your former spouse who receives spousal support/alimony has begun cohabitating, you can request that alimony be terminated.
Do we have to sell the house?
It depends. There is a presumption in both North Carolina and South Carolina that all of the marital assets and debts will be split equitably between spouses, which includes both the equity in the house and the mortgage debt. If one spouse wishes to keep the house, that spouse must figure out how to do two things: First, the spouse keeping the house must remove the other spouse’s name from the mortgage loan (typically either by refinance, payoff, or assumption), and second, the spouse keeping the house must find a way to pay the other spouse their portion of the equity in the home, if any. For example, the spouse keeping the house might provide the other spouse with a greater portion of marital savings accounts or brokerage accounts in an equivalent value to the other spouse’s portion of the equity in the home. Oftentimes, however, the largest asset couples have is their home and there is no other way to provide each spouse with 50% of the equity in the home except to sell the home and divide the equity proceeds resulting from the sale.
Do I have to share my retirement/401(k) savings?
It depends. If you have retirement savings that you accumulated prior to marriage, those funds would typically be considered “separate property” and not subject to division in divorce. Retirement savings and 401(k) account funds that have accumulated during the course of the marriage are considered “marital property,” and are subject to equitable apportionment between the spouses. If you both have close to an equal amount of retirement savings in each of your individual retirement accounts, you might both keep your individual accounts without splitting them. If one spouse has saved most of the retirement for the couple in his or her individual 401(k) account, then the other spouse is typically entitled to half of the funds. That being said, dividing the marital estate is a creative math problem. If you keep your full 401(k) account in the divorce, is there another way to allocate to your spouse the equivalent of 50% of your 401(k) savings? Could you provide your spouse with a greater portion of the equity in the home? Are there other liquid accounts your spouse could be allocated? This is a situation where you definitely need to consult with a lawyer to figure out the best way to divide your marital retirement accounts fairly without incurring extra fees and expenses.
Can I get (or will I have to pay) alimony in North Carolina?
Alimony is not automatically awarded in North Carolina. North Carolina has a need-based approach to alimony; one spouse must need alimony to maintain the standard of living they became accustomed to during the course of the marriage and the other spouse must have the ability to pay alimony. The “supporting spouse” would pay alimony to the “dependent spouse” to cover the dependent spouse’s needs that they cannot afford on their own.
In North Carolina, if adultery was committed by the dependent spouse (even if the dependent spouse needs alimony), however, this behavior bars the dependent spouse from receiving alimony. If the supporting spouse has committed adultery (and the supporting spouse has the ability to pay), then the dependent spouse will be awarded alimony.
Do we really have to live apart for a year before we can get a divorce, or can we just sleep in separate bedrooms?
Yes, in both North Carolina and South Carolina to file for a no-fault divorce you must live separate and apart in separate homes for one year and one day before you can file for divorce. Staying in separate bedrooms under the same roof is not sufficient in either state to qualify as a “separation.” Filing and receiving the divorce decree is the final step in the separation and divorce process, but in the year-long interim period, you can address all of the other issues related to the divorce such as child custody, child support, equitable distribution, and spousal support/alimony.
What if my spouse doesn’t want to get divorced?
Your spouse cannot deny you a divorce and you do not need your spouse’s “permission” to file for a divorce. If you meet the requirements to file for divorce, you can proceed whether your spouse wants to be divorced or not. An uncooperative spouse does not need to agree to the divorce for it to be granted by a judge; however, your spouse must be served with proper notice that you filed for divorce. After service, if your spouse ignores the lawsuit, your divorce will still typically be granted in the end. Bear in mind that all marital financial issues (i.e., equitable distribution and spousal support/alimony) must be resolved prior to the issuance of a final divorce decree.
What if my spouse won’t leave the house to start the separation period?
If your spouse refuses to leave the shared marital residence and you want to keep things amicable and low-cost, you may have to be the spouse who initiates the separation by leaving temporarily. There are sometimes other legal avenues to attempt to remove your spouse from the marital residence, but the other legal options can be expensive, time-consuming, and not conducive to reaching a settlement with your spouse in the long term. As a side note: you cannot just change the locks after your spouse leaves for work one day and not permit your spouse to reenter the home unless you have filed for and been granted a domestic violence protective order. Generally, locking your spouse out is not the best way to initiate an amicable divorce.
Do we have to go to mediation?
No, not necessarily. Oftentimes couples can agree upon how to divide their marital estate, what their parenting time schedule will be, set a child support obligation, and determine spousal support/alimony on their own or with the assistance of attorney(s) prior to proceeding to mediation.
If a couple disagrees upon any of the above-mentioned issues and cannot find a resolution, the couple may benefit from participating in mediation to work out the details of their divorce. A mediator is a neutral third party who is usually an attorney or a retired judge. Mediators assist the parties in working through their disagreements and finding a workable and satisfactory overall resolution. Couples can participate in mediation without attorney representation, but in North Carolina, please note that a mediator cannot draft a separation agreement. If you come to an agreement in mediation in North Carolina without attorneys, you will have to take your list of agreed-upon points to a separate attorney to draft the separation agreement. If you are represented by attorneys during the mediation and you are able to resolve your case, you and your spouse would sign a separation agreement drafted by one of your attorneys. In South Carolina, a mediator is permitted to draft a mediated settlement agreement for parties who are not represented by attorneys, which can save a ton of money for spouses who cannot afford two attorneys.
How long does a divorce take?
In North Carolina: You have to wait for one year and one day after separation to file for divorce. Your spouse has 30 days after service to respond to the divorce lawsuit. If you and your spouse have reached a resolution outside of court, finalizing the divorce will be a matter of getting on the court’s docket to have a judge declare you legally divorced. If your county has a full docket, it can take an additional 3+ months to finalize the divorce after filing.
In South Carolina: For a no-fault divorce, if you have been separated for one year and one day and have reached a resolution on all marital issues, finalizing the divorce will be a matter of getting on the court’s docket to have a judge declare you legally divorced. If your county has a full docket, it can take an additional 2+ months to finalize the divorce after filing. If you and your spouse have reached a resolution outside of court, you are filing for a fault-based ground for divorce (adultery, habitual drunkenness or drug use, or physical cruelty), and your spouse does not contest the divorce filing, you may be able to obtain a divorce 90 days after the date of filing.
Can we file the divorce paperwork ourselves?
Yes, you can file the divorce lawsuit without a lawyer, but divorce paperwork is intensive and has very specific legal requirements. Navigating the divorce process is complex and divorce paperwork is best completed by a licensed attorney who has the expertise to properly handle your divorce.
Do I have to go to court?
In North Carolina: No, not usually. If you can reach a resolution on all your other marital issues outside of court (i.e., child support, child custody, equitable distribution, and spousal support/alimony), all you have to do is file the divorce lawsuit then proceed accordingly with your county’s respective requirements to finalize your divorce. You do not typically have to be present in court when the judge signs the Judgment of Divorce.
In South Carolina: Yes, even if you and your spouse have reached a resolution on all of your other issues outside of court (i.e., child support, child custody, equitable distribution, and spousal support/alimony), you will have to appear at a Final Divorce Hearing in front of a judge to get the Decree of Divorce entered, unless you and your spouse (via your attorneys) submit affidavits to the court in lieu of a hearing.
You’re unhappy in your marriage and don’t see a way forward. You haven’t separated but you are considering a separation and potentially a divorce. If you’re confused about what steps you should take, we are here to offer some advice.
First, if possible, seek out a reputable licensed marriage and family therapist to see if you can improve your marriage. If you and your spouse both desire to improve the state of your marriage, set the intention and try. A marriage therapist can also help you navigate a separation if, after some sessions, a separation is what you and your spouse decide is necessary. Anyone who has been married knows that marriage is not easy. Sometimes thinking about divorce can be the wake-up call that you need to start working toward improving your marriage. It can be helpful to do a quick introductory call with a few marriage and family therapists (if they offer it) to see if you are a good fit before deciding on one together. If your spouse won’t go to marriage therapy with you (or even if you are currently in marriage therapy), make sure you are also seeing an individual therapist to help you cope and work on your own individual issues.
CONTEMPLATE WHAT’S BEST FOR YOUR CHILD
What parenting schedule might be best for your child if you decide to separate from your spouse? Consider your children’s ages, personalities, extracurricular activities, maturity levels, and medical, developmental, and emotional needs. Consider each parent’s work schedule, lifestyle, and capacity to meet the children’s daily needs. If one parent travels frequently for work, that would factor into the time and days that the traveling parent could assist with school pick-up and drop-off, transport to afterschool activities, homework help, and bedtime. If, after separation, you are going to agree to a parenting time schedule (and not go to court and let the judge decide), the parenting time schedule can look however you want it to and you can decide what schedule ultimately works best for your family.
UNDERSTAND YOUR FINANCIAL PICTURE
Next, start thinking about the marital assets and debts in your marital estate. Go through statements and make a list or a spreadsheet outlining your house, mortgage(s), retirement and investment accounts, bank accounts, car loans, credit card debt, medical debt, any special or valuable household possessions, as well as any property that might be “separate” from your marital estate (like inheritance funds or items you owned prior to marriage). Look at your overall financial picture and think about how you might move forward if you made the choice to separate. Have you been a stay-at-home parent who relied on your spouse financially? Would you need financial assistance from your spouse in the form of post-separation support or alimony? Would you all be able to pay off shared marital debt if you sell your house and both buy smaller homes? In North Carolina and South Carolina, there is a presumption that all of the assets and debts you accumulated during the marriage will be split 50%/50% between the spouses, although there are statutory factors that can cause the percentages to be apportioned differently by a judge.
DETERMINE YOUR LEGAL RIGHTS
Consult with a family law attorney or two. Find out your legal rights and the claims you could make if you choose to separate and divorce. Be extremely honest during your consultation so the attorney can give you accurate advice. Has there been adultery on either side of the marriage? Are there substance abuse issues? Are the children struggling with physical or mental health issues? Family law attorneys have seen and heard everything when it comes to these types of personal family issues, so please do not be embarrassed and speak freely knowing you are protected by attorney-client confidentiality. The issues mentioned above can affect your legal situation, so you want to tell the full truth about past or current situations when you consult with an attorney. If you choose to separate, you generally have to live separate and apart continuously for at least one year before actually filing for no-fault divorce (in both North Carolina and South Carolina). You have time and space to figure it out, so you don’t have to rush to make decisions. If your spouse is against separating or moving towards a divorce, you may have to be the one to leave the marital residence, but know that you do not need “permission” from your spouse to take the next steps. Reach out to set up a consultation with an attorney if you are discerning whether a separation and divorce is right for you. We can help.
What do you want your child’s divorce story to be? Ending an unhappy union through a divorce can sometimes be the best solution for a family. We know divorce affects children, but it does not have to traumatize children or be nasty and contentious. It can be a relief for your children to see both of their parents happier and better-adjusted post-divorce. Your child can have the opportunity to develop a stronger relationship with both parents and their siblings because of divorce. Your divorce approach can impact a generation. What will your child’s lifelong memories be after your divorce? Will your child remember the joy of seeing both of their parents sitting in the same row at their school play? Or will they remember the tension between you and your co-parent as you sat on opposite sides of the theatre and agonizing over which parent to run to first after their play? Will your child remember stressful custody exchanges or special times at both parents’ homes? Keep this in the forefront of your mind as you proceed through your separation and divorce.
A parent is never perfect, but you are the perfect parent for your child. Divorce is a huge transition in a child’s life and there are steps you can take to help your child’s divorce story be a positive one.
LOVE YOUR KIDS
Love them. That’s simplistic, but it’s truly the best thing you can do. Be present with your child as they experience this major life change. Listen actively if they want to talk; be with them quietly if they don’t. Hug them, check in with them often, and remind them that you love them and will be there if they ever want to talk. Be open to their questions and answer them honestly at an age-appropriate level. Keep in mind as you answer that you protect them from the legal side of the divorce, even if they are older. Explain the new logistics of at whose house they will sleep and when, and who will pick them up from school, but shield them from the intricate details of child custody, child support, alimony, and anything regarding the marital estate.
TREAT YOUR CO-PARENT RESPECTFULLY
Make your child’s well-being your priority by treating your co-parent with respect and civility. Think of how your child will be affected by your words, thoughts, and actions around the divorce and toward your co-parent. Treat your co-parent with respect for no other reason except that your co-parent is an extension of your child. Be aware of how you speak about your co-parent around your child and only speak positively about your child’s time with your co-parent. Kids will often say they don’t want to go to the other parent’s home, but there can be many reasons for this. Don’t jump to conclusions. Sometimes a child’s hesitance to leave you is just a sign that the child has a healthy attachment to you, like when a child cries at daycare drop-off (and recovers within a minute of you walking out the door).
DO NOT RELY ON YOUR CHILDREN FOR EMOTIONAL SUPPORT
It is okay to be transparent about your own feelings and emotions throughout the divorce process, but do not rely on your children to support you emotionally. Children should not be the ones comforting you about your adult problems. They should not be taking on your emotional load while trying to manage their own. Find a qualified therapist or talk to family or friends for support.
By following this advice, you will let your children maintain their childhood through a divorce and preserve pleasant childhood memories with both of their parents. The divorce story your child will tell in adulthood will be one where their parents were brave enough to make the right decision to move on so they could be better people and better parents post-divorce. You can contact us if you are ready to take that next brave step.
The word self-care gets thrown around a lot these days. Some people hear the term self-care with a more negative connotation: essentially, as an excuse to be selfish. Others see self-care as a necessity – the equivalent of putting your oxygen mask on first before helping someone else. As an attorney, I can tell you that self-care is important not only to my fellow attorneys – but also to my clients. Whether your divorce is amicable or contentious, divorce is hard for everyone involved. There are no easy answers or fixes when you believe that your family is falling apart. However, some of my best clients are those who have made self-care a priority as they go through this process. Here are some of the best self-care strategies to utilize to deal with the divorce process in a healthier manner.
Lean on your family and friends for support. Call or text them when you’re feeling down. Ask to get together, especially during the times when your children are with their other parent, as that can be a more difficult time during your separation and divorce. Don’t be afraid to ask your family or friends for help while you are learning your new normal. If someone offers to make you a meal, watch your kids, or help you around the house, say yes. Most people are looking for ways that they can actively support you through this transition and let you know that you are not alone.
Take care of your mental health. Divorce is one of the most stressful life changes you will ever go through. Seek a qualified counselor to support your mental health through the transition. Ask your lawyer for recommendations, if needed, as we have many clients who have successfully utilized compassionate, qualified counselors to assist them during separation and after divorce. You can also try meditation or breathing exercises to help you with the difficult emotions you might experience. There are many apps now that provide guided meditations and deep breathing exercises for free or low cost.
Try to get enough sleep, exercise, fresh air, and nourishment for your body. It’s amazing what a walk around the neighborhood can do for your emotional state when you’re in a funk. This is also a great time to try something new like hiking, recreational sports teams, or group exercise classes, which get you out of your normal routines and allow you to meet new people.
TIME TO REFLECT
Say no to overscheduling yourself, establish boundaries with your ex-spouse, and provide yourself with breathing room in your days and weeks ahead to process the range of emotions that you will experience during the dissolution of your marriage.
As you are deciding on co-parenting schedules, whether to sell or keep the marital home, or the logistics of how to pay for two households, know that you don’t have to make every decision immediately. Focus on yourself and put your oxygen mask on first before diving into the decision-making process. You have time to discern what you want to do next. Know that as your attorney, I am here for you every step of the way.
We work hard to make the divorce process as amicable as possible, but inevitably you will need healing along this journey. Engaging in some of the self-care tactics above can help promote healing and encourage you in taking the next steps forward in your new chapter in life.
Divorce will likely be one of the most difficult periods of your life. It is an emotionally and financially draining process that can be exacerbated when you are dealing with an uncooperative spouse and you simply do not have the means to hire an attorney.
At the most basic level, presently just filing for divorce costs $225 in North Carolina and $150 in South Carolina. Additionally, attorneys charge an hourly rate that often exceeds $250 per hour. If you read my blog post about the cost of a divorce in North Carolina, you know that a divorce with other issues involved like child custody, equitable distribution, and child support can rack up legal fees into the thousands.
Maybe you don’t have that kind of money. Maybe you were blindsided by the divorce and don’t have access to your assets right now. I have seen these situations repeatedly in practicing law for more than a decade, first with traditional litigation and now exclusively with collaborative divorce. It pains me to see families hurt. I would never casually encourage divorce or flippantly tell someone they don’t need an attorney. But I understand that sometimes, it is virtually impossible to gather several thousand dollars to fight your case. What do you do?
If you are willing and able, there are some free and low-cost resources available that can help you get started and/or finish the process.
Look for a non-profit law firm or organization in your area that offers low-cost or pro bono work for family law cases. Both North and South Carolina, where I practice, have organizations that provide free services if you meet their income requirements. Legal Aid of North Carolina and South Carolina Legal Services hold free do-it-yourself clinics so you can learn how to do a simple divorce or file for child custody. You may find an organization in your state that will charge you a small fee for helping you with certain paperwork.
Connect with an attorney
Call the North Carolina Bar Association referral service to get a lower-cost initial consultation with a licensed attorney to get you started. Find a Family Law Clinic at a local law school to guide you in the process. You may be able to meet with an attorney for guidance on a specific issue so that you can do it yourself. There are limited representation attorneys, who provide legal services a la carte. Some attorneys represent family law clients pro bono, although it’s very hard to find one to do so because family law cases can be very involved and time-consuming.
File for Divorce Pro Se or Unrepresented
You can file for divorce without a lawyer to represent you, but this should be a last resort. You do not want to potentially lose out on alimony or equitable distribution claims because you did not ask for them before you got divorced. Find the Divorce Forms for your state listed below. Check your local library for treatises and rule books on state family law, but make sure to confirm that they are not out of date.
Legal Aid of North Carolina Simple Divorce Clinic via Facebook Live or Zoom, or call Legal Aid of North Carolina’s HelpLine at 1-866-219-5262.
South Carolina Legal Services Divorce Clinics’ dates and times are listed on its online calendar. Check the website to find one near you.
North Carolina Divorce Packet on the North Carolina courts website.
Self-Represented Litigant Simple Divorce Packet on the South Carolina courts website.
The Mecklenburg County Courthouse Self-Service Center has resources where you can fill out the paperwork there and file.
Call or go online to the North Carolina Bar Association referral service at 919-662-8574 to get an initial thirty-minute $50 consultation with an attorney just to get you started.
NCCU School of Law has a family law clinic if you are in the Triangle area.
If you’ve been considering divorce or are just starting the process, you might already be reeling at the prospect of paying a hefty price tag. A consultation could cost you a few hundred dollars. It’s well worth your money, but that’s only the beginning.
I hope you’ll consider what I’m about to share with you.
If you’re thinking about going to court for your divorce, the financial implications could be devastating. The financial cost is one of the reasons I stopped litigating cases years ago and why I now advocate so strongly for a collaborative approach. It’s my exclusive practice now.
So, How Much?
A few years ago, legal marketing firm Martindale-Nolo asked consumers how much they paid for their divorces, and attorneys how much they charged. In North Carolina, the cost varied widely depending on several factors, including the number of contested issues and whether the case went to trial. The higher the conflict, the higher the price tag. For one contested issue and no trial, their research showed a minimum of about $5,000. The cases that went to trial averaged between $12,000-$15,000. I’ve seen some cases go into six figures.
The bottom line is that typically the more cooperative the couple is, the smaller the bill. Can you see why I strongly support collaborative divorce?
Collaborative divorce is a voluntary process wherein both spouses commit to resolving their divorce outside of the court. Couples sign a legally binding contract in which they commit to work together, and with their respective attorneys, to separate assets, work out any child custody or spousal support issues, and minimize the collateral damage of divorce on their family as a whole.
Generally speaking, the collaborative process costs less than going to court. Here are some of the factors that can impact the total cost of your divorce:
Where You Live
You can’t help where you live, but where you live matters. Attorneys in Raleigh may not charge the same hourly rates as attorneys in Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina. If you live in New York City, your bill might be a lot higher than if you live in Mississippi, for example.
How many contested issues are there? If you have several issues to work through, such as child custody, alimony, property division, etc., it may add to your overall cost. However, if you and your spouse have no children and minimal assets to split, the total cost could be a lot less.
A seasoned attorney is worth his or her weight in gold, in my opinion. You cannot replace the working knowledge that an experienced attorney has of the law, the court system, and the process. That said, these attorneys charge accordingly for that expertise. An experienced attorney will likely charge a higher hourly rate for his or her services compared to an attorney who has been practicing for a year. You want to find the balance of attorney experience/hourly rate that works for you.
Settlement or Trial?
If you spend any amount of time on this site, you’ll know that I am a firm believer in settling divorces outside of court. I believe it is the best way to preserve your finances and your heart as much as possible. Settling cases will not only keep you out of court, but it will likely save money if the spouses and their attorneys can work together. But some couples simply can’t or won’t agree on their contested issues and they end up in court. The litigation process will cost you more money, time, and energy. Your attorney will have to file a lawsuit or respond to allegations, gather evidence, and prepare for trial.
There is a lot of work that goes into advocating for our clients. How many phone calls, e-mails, and/or meetings will it take to resolve your divorce? How many documents will your attorney be reviewing and drafting? How often will you be communicating with your attorney? Those costs are hard to predict, and they can add up, so it’s something to keep in mind. In the collaborative process, it’s possible to resolve all the issues more efficiently, which helps keep costs down.
When I opened the doors to Dasher Law, I wanted to do divorce differently. In fact, I made that my mission statement and I work every day to keep couples focused on staying out of court and moving on to the next new chapter of their lives.
If you’re ready to Divorce Differently, call us and set up a consultation. We’d love to help.
When clients come in for a consultation, they often want to know:
HOW SOON CAN I GET DIVORCED?
Sure, getting married can be quick and easy. But most states make it a little harder to get divorced, for a variety of reasons.
The bottom line for you if you’re considering divorce is that it could take anywhere from several months to more than a year, depending upon where you live and several other factors.
Fault v. No-fault
I practice collaborative (A.K.A. “amicable”) divorce in North and South Carolina. North Carolina is a no-fault state. That means that regardless of the reason for the divorce, the spouses must live separate and apart continuously for one full year before they can file for divorce. Unfortunately, if you’ve experienced adultery or abandonment in your marriage, it won’t expedite the divorce. You must still wait a year and at least one of you must have lived in the state for six months before you can file. (Different states have different residency requirements. Check yours.)
South Carolina is different in that you can file for divorce sooner than before one full year of separation if you have one of these fault-based grounds: adultery, desertion, physical cruelty, or habitual drunkenness/drug use. There is a 90-day waiting period if you have fault-based grounds. The spouses must also resolve all matters pertaining to the divorce, such as alimony, child custody, property division, etc., before a judge will grant the divorce. If a couple has experienced adultery or any other large breach of marital trust, it may be hard for spouses to resolve their marital issues within 90 days. In those cases, it could take a year to resolve the divorce regardless.
Your timeline will depend upon your individual situation, which is why I strongly encourage people to schedule a consultation with an attorney. A consultation will help you understand how long your divorce could take.
Collaborative v. Contentious
Another factor that could affect your divorce timeline is whether you’re divorcing amicably. If you and your spouse have decided to part ways and want to work together to disentangle, first I applaud you and believe you are making the best choice for your family. Legally speaking, in North Carolina, you’ll still have to wait one year to file for divorce after you separate. Your spouse then has 30 days to respond to the filing. After that, if you and your spouse have come to a resolution outside of court, finalizing the divorce will be a matter of getting on the court’s docket to have a judge declare you legally divorced. In South Carolina, if you have an agreement, a fault-based ground for divorce, and your spouse does not contest the filing, your divorce could be granted long before one year of separation has passed.
Depending upon where you live, getting on the court’s docket could be faster or slower than you anticipate. Mecklenburg County is always busy, so in this county, I tell my clients that if they’ve met the mandatory one year waiting period, it could take an additional 3-6 months to finalize their divorce.
As a collaborative divorce attorney, I help couples resolve their divorces outside of the courtroom. We can’t change the law to get you divorced faster, but I believe that if you can work together as a team to separate assets and decide on parenting time, you will resolve your divorce as quickly and efficiently as possible.
If you have questions, call us to set up a consultation. We do divorce differently here. We believe both sides can come through divorce as emotionally and financially healthy as possible. If you’re ready to divorce differently, call us. We’d love to help.