Dissolving a marriage would be a complicated process in the best of times. When emotions are raw, it is no wonder couples often have trouble agreeing on issues like property division and child custody. When a couple files for divorce before they resolve all the relevant issues, they have a contested divorce.
Contested divorces can be high conflict, but they do not have to be. If you are divorcing but have not settled all the details yet, contact a Kernersville contested divorce lawyer at Apple Payne Law. Our divorce attorneys are dedicated to helping families navigate life’s important decisions, and we can help you negotiate outstanding issues with your spouse, and if a resolution is not possible, advocate for you in court.
Almost any issue a couple cannot agree on can lead to a contested divorce. The most frequently contested issues are property division, child custody, and spousal support/alimony. Even just one sticking point, such as who keeps the piano or which parent a child will spend their birthday with, could move an uncontested divorce into contested territory.
Everyone benefits when a couple resolves these issues as amicably as possible. A Kernersville contested divorce attorney will speak with a spouse about what they hope to gain in the divorce and what they are willing to give up. The attorneys for both spouses can then negotiate to resolve the outstanding issues in accordance with the applicable law.
North Carolina Statutes §50-20 requires a couple to divide their property equitably, which means it is fair considering all the relevant circumstances (which may or may not mean equal). Each spouse will usually keep their separate property, meaning the property they had prior to when they got married. Marital property is (usually) anything the couple acquired during the marriage, and divisible property is the change in the value of the marital property from the date the couple separated until the date the property is distributed between them. The couple must divide their marital and divisible property.
Divorcing parents must arrange for their children’s care. They must decide where the child will live and how much time they will spend with each parent. Courts favor parents sharing custody equally to enable children to benefit from continued meaningful contact with both parents. Sole custody is VERY rarely awarded, and the spouse seeking it must prove the other spouse poses a danger and is an unfit parent. If a spouse intends to seek sole custody, a Kernersville contested divorce attorney can explain the high level of proof they will need to support their request.
Like most states, North Carolina bases child support obligations on a formula published in Child Support Guidelines. The formula accounts for the incomes of each parent, how much time the children spend in each parent’s home, each parent’s work-related childcare costs, how many children each parent supports, and other factors. The guidelines are only a starting point, but they usually represent the payments a court will require unless the parties agree otherwise.
The law does not automatically require either spouse to continue to support the other. However, spousal support might be appropriate when one spouse has been financially dependent on the other, cannot work full-time due to childcare responsibilities, or cannot maintain the lifestyle they enjoyed while married after a divorce. Spousal support is temporary—either long enough to allow the receiving spouse to develop marketable skills or return to the workforce or the entry of divorce, whichever comes first. In addition to the financial needs and relative income of the parties, the court considers the length of the marriage.
Alimony is like spousal support, but takes effect after post-separation support, can last past divorce and is more typical where one spouse either made significantly more money than the other or there was marital misconduct by the higher income spouse. Additionally, as a very rough rule of thumb, alimony can last around ½ the length of the marriage but is usually not awarded to marriages that were less than 5 years in length. Alimony can be awarded for life until either party dies or until the receiving spouse cohabitates or gets remarried, but such “alimony for life” awards are rare with the exception of long marriages and generally judges expect the receiving spouse to return to self-sufficiency within a couple of years at most of the separation.
If a couple or their attorneys do not resolve their outstanding issues before filing and they file claims, a court may order the couple to attend mediation. Mediation is mandatory for all equitable distribution claims as well as child custody, but the courts often order it (or will deny potential trial dates until it is completed). Under the guidance of a neutral third party, usually an experienced family law attorney with certification as a mediator, the couple works through counsel to develop agreements that will resolve their disputes.
Couples experiencing high conflict can especially benefit from mediation. Mediators always meet with each spouse and their counsel separately from the other side or hold the session remotely. When a couple’s communication is ineffective or the power dynamics disadvantage one spouse, this is especially important to allow each side to be heard. The Apple Payne contested divorce lawyers in Kernersville will be present at the mediation (except the mandatory child custody mediations which are conducted by court personnel).
If mediation fails, a judge may hold a trial and decide the remaining issues. Judges strive to be fair and impartial, make decisions that are most supportive of the children, and put both spouses in the best position to move forward after divorce.
If you or your spouse have filed for divorce but are unclear on how to divide your property or handle issues regarding your children, help is available from a Kernersville contested divorce lawyer. Our dedicated team at Apple Payne is ready to help you protect your family’s best interests and fight for your rights. Give us a call today to get started.