North Carolina divorce basics: property division

Even in the earliest stages of thinking about divorce, people often feel intimidated by the uncertainties and high-stakes questions that divorce can raise. Along with child custody issues, the biggest of these questions are often financial: How will our savings accounts be divided? What about our debts? Can I afford to live on my own? For anyone considering divorce in North Carolina, it can be helpful to learn a little bit about the laws that judges apply when they are asked to rule on the financial aspects of divorce.

Negotiating an agreement out of court

Many divorcing couples in North Carolina choose to negotiate their own agreements outside of court, often with the help of their divorce lawyers. Depending on the circumstances, this can help divorcing spouses move through the process more quickly and allows them more control over the outcome than they would have by going to court.

Some couples who wish to reach an agreement outside of court choose to participate in a process called divorce mediation. Divorce mediation is a dispute resolution process in which the two spouses, and sometimes their attorneys, are joined by a neutral third party called a mediator. The mediator does not take sides and does not have the power to decide the outcome. Instead, he or she guides the spouses through a process of identifying their objectives and working toward a solution that both individuals can agree on.

How judges decide property division issues

Despite the best efforts of everyone involved, it is not always possible to come to an agreement outside of court - whether through mediation or more traditional forms of negotiation. In these cases, North Carolina couples who wish to end their marriages must go to family court to have their disagreements settled by a judge.

When family court judges in North Carolina are asked to rule on property division issues, they apply a principle of law known as "equitable distribution." Put simply, this requires them to divide a divorcing couple's property in a manner that is fair, or equitable. However, this does not always mean that the property is divided equally. To determine what is fair, judges in North Carolina must consider a wide range of factors, such as:

  • The income, debts and assets of each spouse at the time of divorce.
  • The length of the marriage.
  • The age and health of each spouse.
  • The expected child custody arrangements after the divorce.
  • The contributions or sacrifices made by one spouse to improve the education or career prospects of the other.

Separate property vs. marital property

With certain exceptions, North Carolina law provides that equitable distribution applies to all of the money, property and other assets that either spouse acquired during the marriage. This category of assets is known as marital property. In contrast, assets acquired by either spouse before marriage typically are categorized as separate property and are not subject to distribution during divorce.

Contact a lawyer for specific advice

To learn more about the North Carolina's divorce laws and how they apply to your own unique situation, get in touch with an experienced divorce and family law attorney in your area.