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Can marital misconduct influence property division during divorce?

Those preparing for divorce in North Carolina often worry about how the end of a marriage may affect their future. Frequently, divorce proceedings can be quite expensive. Couples also need to divide their property and their debts with one another.

Most people do not know what to expect during property division proceedings and may have unrealistic expectations. For example, someone who divorces because their spouse has withdrawn emotionally or cheated on them may want to hold their spouse accountable. They expect the courts to factor in someone’s conduct during the marriage when deciding how to divide property.

Does fault generally influence property division decisions in North Carolina divorces?

North Carolina only offers no-fault divorces

Like most other states, North Carolina has largely moved away from fault-based divorce proceedings. People do not need to gather evidence of misconduct to prove that they have the appropriate grounds for a divorce. Instead, they simply need to assert that there has been a breakdown of the marriage. No-fault divorces are faster and put less strain on the courts. They also make it easier for people to cooperatively co-parent after a divorce. Unfortunately, the no-fault approach to divorce may deny some people a sense of vindication or justice. Judges typically do not consider misconduct when dividing marital assets. They focus on fairness based on factors from the marriage.

When does fault matter?

Occasionally, judges may alter their property division orders because of something that one spouse did. Usually, financial misconduct is necessary to convince a judge to penalize one spouse for their bad behavior. The dissipation of marital assets or the intentional destruction of marital resources can lead to a judge altering how they divide the remaining marital estate between the spouses. The courts can consider financial misconduct such as spending marital income on an extramarital affair when dividing the pool of marital property.

Other times, it may be an attempt to hide property when preparing for divorce that leads to a judge imposing an economic penalty on one spouse. Hidden assets violate court rules and state law. A judge may award more of the marital estate to the spouse who did not hide assets from the other spouse and the courts during the discovery process.

Spouses who are aware of how North Carolina handles property division matters can set more achievable goals for their upcoming divorces. Understanding the rules that apply during property division proceedings, and seeking legal guidance accordingly, can make a major difference for those seeking the best possible divorce outcome.