North Carolina courts are tasked with resolving property division conflicts when couples separate and divorce. They do so by identifying marital property, determining the fair market value of the property, and determining an equitable distribution of this property based on a number of statutory factors. While this concept may sound straight forward, the reality of property division is much different.
In fact, property division can become really messy. There are disputes over whether property is separate property (and thus not subject to division), the valuation of property, hidden property that one spouse did not know about, inheritance gained during the marriage, the date that property was acquired, and improper actions regarding property. Among the problems that we see is the situation when a spouse delays a property division case.
Consequences of Delaying Property Division Proceedings
A spouse may delay proceedings for several reasons. Some spouses do it simply out of spite, to draw out the legal process and make the other spouse financially suffer. Others do it as a matter of strategy, to cause the other spouse to run up legal expenses. In some cases, spouses have truly acted improperly and have something to hide.
Courts take delays seriously, as they can significantly add to the costs of litigation, it can cause financial damage to the other party, it delays resolution of the property division case, and it wastes the court’s time. The improper act of delaying property division proceedings is enough of a problem that the legislature has deemed delays unlawful. In fact, the court, on the motion of a complaining party or on its own, can impose “appropriate sanction” on the party acting improperly. To do so, the court must consider the evidence and find that the following two elements exist:
- “The party has willfully obstructed or unreasonably delayed, or has attempted to obstruct or unreasonably delay” discovery proceedings or any pending equitable distribution proceeding; and
- This “willful obstruction or unreasonable delay of the proceedings is or would be prejudicial to the interests of the opposing party.”
If the court finds that the two elements exist, it may order the offending party to pay the harmed party “reasonable expenses and damages incurred because of the willful obstruction or unreasonable delay. These include attorney’s fees and the fees of accountants, appraisers, or other expert “whose services the court finds are necessary to secure in order for the discovery or other equitable distribution proceeding to be timely conducted.”
New Direction Family Law
Unreasonable delays in property division proceedings prevent you from moving forward with your life. If you have separated or are considering separation, contact New Direction Family Law today. We understand what delay and obstruction look like and will fight to protect your right to a fair, timely resolution to your issues. We serve Wake, Johnston, Lee, Harnett, Cumberland, Nash, Granville, Franklin, and Durham counties. Contact New Direction Family Law at (919) 719-3470 to schedule an appointment or reach us online.
Sarah J. Hink
New Direction Family Law