One of the unfortunate side effects of the COVID 19 crisis is that for some couples, the constant proximity has solidified that their marriages should end. This is also not an ideal time to separate or divorce, with stay-at-home orders, unemployment, working from home, homeschooling, and an overall focus on survival. Also, courts have continued or postponed all non-emergency family law hearings, and access to courts has been limited.
Nevertheless, if you have decided to end your marriage, it is wise to begin the mental work of planning what your separation will look like. North Carolina is an absolute divorce state, which requires that a married couple separate for a full uninterrupted year before they can ask a court for a divorce decree. There are critical issues that should be addressed before you separate, to be best prepared for that yearlong separation and beyond. These include how marital property is going to be split, whether a spouse will have to pay alimony, child custody and a visitation schedule, and child support.
Critical Questions Before You Separate
- Do you truly want a divorce?
A couple must be separated for an uninterrupted year to obtain a divorce. A reconciliation of the marriage resets the timeline. A spouse needs to have some level of certainty that he or she wants the marriage to end.
- Where will you live?
A couple must live separate and apart for a full year before a judge can grant an absolute divorce. This means that one or both people will have to vacate the marital residence and find other suitable accommodations.
- What will child custody and visitation look like?
There are numerous options when it comes to child custody. North Carolina courts are mandated to decide what will be in the child’s best interest. This can range from an equal split of custodial time for each parent to one parent having to be supervised around the child. A couple that is separating can reach an agreement as to how custody and visitation with their child will occur. Unless there are significant safety concerns about one parents ability to care for the child, it is important that both parents be involved in the upbringing and decision-making of the child.
- What is your marital property and where is it?
Marital property is property that was acquired between the date of marriage and the date of separation. This is in contrast to separate property, which includes inheritance and property that each spouse had before the marriage. The distinction is significant because separate property stays with the original spouse, while marital property is divided in an “equitable” manner between spouses when they divorce. Be prepared to identify and appraise all of the property in your marital estate as well as your separate property.
- What will your budget look like?
A couple’s budget does not increase when they separate. Instead, there is an additional set of bills for whatever house or apartment the other spouse moves to. You should take a look at your monthly expenses and identify your fixed costs, your essential expenditures, and what expenses you can cut. The issue of spousal support or alimony can become highly contested, so it is critical to have a reasonable and well-reasoned budget in mind.
- Will you have a job or will you have to get a job?
Another implication of separation is that a spouse who does not work may have to re-enter the workforce. While this is unrealistic for primary caregivers during the COVID 19 pandemic—who have to homeschool their children—it is smart to anticipate what sort of job you may have to get and what sort of education it will take to be a desirable applicant for those positions.
New Direction Family Law
An experienced family lawyer can help you prepare for your separation and divorce. The steps you take now can go a long way to provide a stable transition for you and your children. At New Direction Family Law, our attorneys are smart, proven advocates who will help you move forward. Let us help you. Call New Direction Family Law today at (919) 719-3470 to schedule an appointment, or contact us at our website.