Family law, often also referred to as domestic law, is the area of the law that defines and governs family relationships. Often, specifically, this area of the law governs divorcing couples. Family law attorneys handle divorce and issues relating to divorce, such as equitable distribution (division of marital assets of debts), alimony, child custody, and child support. Family law attorneys also often represent unmarried couples with child custody, child support, and paternity issues. Family law attorneys also assist individuals with other related domestic matters, such as adoption (including traditional adoption, step-parent adoption, relative adoption, and adult adoption), termination of parental rights, surrogacy, pre-nuptial or pre-marital agreements, and post-nuptial or post-marital agreements.
Absolute Divorce North Carolina is a no-fault divorce state, meaning that a couple must be separated for at least one year prior to filing for absolute divorce. A couple is legally separated from one another on the date that at least one spouse vacates the marital residence with the intention to not return or resume the marital relationship. After a couple has been separated for a period of one year, one spouse can file for divorce in North Carolina. It generally takes about 45-60 days from the date of filing of a Complaint for Absolute Divorce for a Decree of Divorce to be entered by the Court. South Carolina also has no-fault divorce, but also recognizes claims for fault-based divorce, on the following statutory grounds: adultery, habitual drunkenness or drug use, physical cruelty, and abandonment. A couple must wait 90 days from date of filing of the lawsuit to be granted a fault-based divorce; however, a South Carolina court will only grant a fault-based divorce if the couple has previously or contemporaneously resolved all of their domestic issues by agreement or otherwise.
Equitable Distribution Equitable distribution is the division of a couple’s marital assets and debts incident to divorce. Both North and South Carolina identify and classify a divorcing couple’s marital assets and debts in order to divide estates equitably upon marital dissolution. North Carolina looks to the couple’s date of separation in order to value and classify assets and debts, while South Carolina looks to the date of filing of the family court lawsuit in order to value and classify assets and debts. Generally speaking, family courts in both states presume that a 50/50 split of the couple’s net marital estate is equitable, although both states’ laws identify several factors that may justify an unequal distribution between divorcing spouses.
Spousal Support/Alimony Alimony is a form of spousal support that can be paid on a temporary or permanent basis. Both North and South Carolina have alimony laws that provide for alimony payments to dependent spouses by supporting spouses in long-term marriages. South Carolina favors permanent, periodic alimony awards, while North Carolina alimony awards are typically of a defined duration. The statutes of both states define a variety of factors which judges can examine in order to determine the amount and duration of an alimony award. Both states also frequently award temporary spousal support to dependent spouses on a short-term basis, in order to meet the immediate needs of that spouse during the period of separation.
Child Custody Child custody is an issue that is arises for both and unmarried couples, and is often the most highly emotional issue that family law attorneys handle. In both states, physical custody refers to where the children live and spend the night, and legal custody refers to who has decision-making authority for the children. For example, if one parent has primary physical custody, it means that parent has the majority of overnights with the children. If one parent has primary legal custody, it means that parent has final decision-making authority regarding issues of lasting significance for the children, such as medical and educational decisions. Joint custody typically refers to a fairly equal physical custody schedule and equal decision-making authority, although one parent may still be designated as the tie-breaker for any legal custody decisions upon which the parents cannot agree.
In both North and South Carolina, judges are charged with determining what custodial arrangement is in the best interests of the minor children. The reality is that no one knows better than two parents what is in the best interests of their children, which is why resolving child custody issues amicably and outside of court is always the best option. It is so important to keep your children’s interests at the forefront and to shield them from any confrontation or hostility during any domestic disputes.
Child Support Child support is a financial obligation paid by one parent to another, typically on a monthly basis. Both North and South Carolina follow what is called the Income Shares Method of calculating child support obligations. The goal of the Income Shares Method is to approximate what two parents would be spending on their children if they resided in a home together. A child support obligation paid by one parent to another is meant to better equalize the respective incomes of the two parents in order to provide for the needs of the children in both homes.
Both states have Child Support Guidelines which set forth rules governing the calculation of child support in each respective state. The Child Support Guidelines in both states utilize worksheets to calculate child support obligations. The child support worksheets factor in each parent’s monthly gross income, and gives credit to the paying parent for work-related childcare costs, the children’s portion of the premium for health insurance carried by one parent, and extraordinary expenses paid by one or both parents. Child support is paid in both states until children turn 18 and graduate from high school.
Lindsey Dasher is licensed to practice family law in both North and South Carolina. There are many differences in the law between the two states, and it is important to consult with an experienced family law attorney who is licensed in both states if you are unsure or concerned about which state has jurisdiction over your family law issues. It is common for individuals who live and work on the border of the Carolinas to be confused about which laws actually apply to their respective situation, and to have many questions about whether anything they heard from their neighbors, friend, or co-workers about their own divorces is true. Scheduling a consultation with an experienced family law attorney is the first step toward becoming educated on the law and learning how to take the best next steps for your family.