How Are Assets Divided in a North Carolina Divorce?
While every divorce is unique, one thing is for certain: ending a marriage is a stressful time for any couple. If you recently filed for divorce, you likely have questions and concerns about what to expect during the legal proceedings, especially when it comes to issues such as child custody, alimony, or asset distribution.
For many divorcing couples, the division of property can be a source of stress and anxiety. Who keeps the house and the car and the retirement savings? If you’re worried about all the unknowns ahead, don’t panic. Although state laws vary when it comes to divorce, rest assured that your local court has a structured legal process in place to divide a couple’s assets as fairly as possible.
Is My Spouse Entitled to Half My Property in a Divorce?
Many people assume that a couple’s property is split down the middle during a divorce. While this isn’t impossible, it isn’t always the case, either. To better understand how your assets will be divvied in court, it’s imperative to first understand the difference between an equitable distribution state and a community property state.
Equitable Distribution vs. Community Property States
All U.S. states facilitate the division of property during a divorce in one of two ways: equitably or as community property. Equitable distribution states greatly outnumber community property states today, as there are currently 41 states that facilitate property division equitably and 9 states that facilitate the division of community property.
The difference between these two approaches is best described as follows:
- In community property states, marital property is usually split roughly between both spouses. You’re more likely to see an approximately equal split in community property states than equitable distribution states.
- In equitable distribution states, the judge will make an effort to split assets as equitably as possible. Keep in mind that equitably doesn’t necessarily translate to equally. While it’s possible for a couple’s assets to be split 50/50 in an equitable distribution state, it’s never a guarantee.
As an equitable distribution state, North Carolina facilitates the division of assets equitably during a divorce. Unlike community property states, the North Carolina court retains the right to make an unequal split between a couple’s property if they deem it to be fair and just.
To get a better idea of what to expect during asset distribution, it’s crucial to know which additional factors the court can take into consideration during the divorce proceedings. The following factors can influence the court’s decision when it comes time to divide your property:
- The duration of the marriage
- Each spouse’s financial contribution to the marriage
- Each spouse’s outstanding debts
- Each spouse’s debt history
- The employability of each spouse
- Spousal education level
- Each spouse’s health
- Non-financial contributions to the marriage
- Marital living standard
- Each spouse’s taxes
- Property details (such as value and location)
- Post-divorce childcare responsibilities
- Any history of spousal abuse
While the outcome of a divorce is rarely predictable, it’s safe to assume that equitable distribution states will do everything in their power to distribute your assets as fairly as possible.
What Is Considered Marital Property in North Carolina?
The distinction between marital property and separate property is a key thing to know during a North Carolina divorce because equitable distribution states only divide marital property, not separate property.
What is marital property?
Also known as community property or jointly owned property, marital property is defined as all real and personal property acquired by either spouse during the course of the marriage and before the date of separation. In layman’s terms, this means that anything either spouse acquired during the marriage is fair game when it comes to property division.
Common examples of marital property include (but aren’t limited to):
- The house
- Employment benefits
- Debts accrued during the marriage
- Household items (such as furniture or artwork)
- Life insurance policies
- Other possessions acquired during the marriage
What is separate property?
Separate property, on the other hand, is considered to be anything that a spouse brought into the marriage (meaning they owned it prior to the union). Although there can be exceptions to this rule, the owner of separate property will typically retain it in a divorce. Keep in mind that this is never a guarantee, as the court will always have the final say when it comes to determining what is separate and marital property.
Examples of separately owned property include (but aren’t limited to):
- Assets that were inherited
- Assets that were gifted by a third party
- Funds saved by one spouse prior to marriage
- Awards from certain civil lawsuits (such as personal injury compensation)
Exceptions to Marital & Separate Property
As you can imagine, disputes can arise when it comes to differentiating between marital and separate property. More often than not, both spouses want to walk away with as much as possible and retain what is rightfully theirs.
While the distinction between marital and separate property is relatively straightforward, there are situations in which ownership becomes more complex. In some cases, separate and marital property can become commingled.
For example, if one spouse deposits $100,000 in retirement funds prior to the marriage, the other spouse may not have a claim to that specific amount. However, they may have a claim to whatever amount was deposited during the marriage.
Likewise, if separate property is deposited into a joint account during marriage, your spouse may have a claim to it during asset distribution if the judge considers it to be marital property.
Gray areas like these can make property division unpredictable in a divorce. While this can be frustrating for some, keep in mind that at the end of the day, the North Carolina court will facilitate asset distribution between you and your soon-to-be ex as fairly as possible.
Legal Representation Tailored to Your Unique Goals
Our compassionate team at the Law Office of Kelli Y. Allen, PLLC is committed to delivering exemplary legal representation tailored to your family’s unique needs. As a small boutique firm, we pride ourselves on providing responsive attention and customized legal services to help you obtain a favorable outcome in court.
Our skilled divorce attorneys possess a comprehensive understanding of family law, allowing them to be a guiding light and go-to resource in your family’s time of need. We know that divorces can be complex and emotional, making it all the more important to have the right representation in your corner. When you partner with us, you’re partnering with a supportive legal team who will have your back from start to finish.
Concerned about property division in your divorce? We can help you keep what’s rightfully yours. Call (704) 870-0340 or contact us online to request a confidential case analysis.