Understanding “Equitable Distribution” in a North Carolina Divorce

If you are getting divorced in the state of North Carolina, you probably have questions about how the state handles the division of real property and other assets between spouses. When a divorcing couple is unable to come to terms regarding “who gets what”—either through negotiations, mediation, or some other means—the decision will be left to a judge. The judge will decide which assets each spouse will get to keep as well as which assets will be split. This includes the distribution debts as well.

North Carolina is what is known as an “equitable distribution” state. This means that the state will seek to divide the property in the fairest manner possible.  It is important to note that “equitable” doesn’t always mean, “equal.” The court is going to look at numerous factors about your marriage as well as each spouse’s future needs in determining how the property should be fairly divided. A judge could hypothetically decide, based on one’s circumstances, that a 75/25 split of assets would be the most equitable division if the future needs of one spouse dictate that a 50/50 split would be unfair.

Additionally, there are always going to be assets which cannot practically be divided 50/50. Oftentimes a house is the largest asset to be considered in a divorce, and it is unlikely the the couple will be comfortable with drawing a line down the middle of the home and each taking half.

A judge will consider factors such as the length of the marriage, each spouse’s age and health, each spouse’s income and future income prospects, and how each spouse contributed to the marriage, amongst many other factors in determining how property should be equitably divided.

There are four steps that the court system in North Carolina will take when dividing assets during a contested divorce. The first step the court will take is to identify all assets and debts owned by the couple. Think of this as taking an inventory of everything that needs to be processed and separated.

Once this has been accomplished, they will move on to step two, classification. Each asset will be classified as either marital (meaning the assets were acquired together during the marriage), separate (meaning the assets were acquired before marriage, or in some rare cases acquired during the marriage but intended only for one spouse as a gift), or divisible (meaning a change of value in marital property that occurs between the separation and actual distribution of assets, such as interest accrued on a joint bank account during that period of time). Only marital and divisible property will be divided in a divorce.

The third step is valuation. Before any of the assets can be divided, they must first be fairly valued. This step can be both complex and lengthy, but it has a massive impact on how the property will be distributed. Your attorney will likely need to enlist the services of outside experts and appraisers, and disputes over the value of property may need to be resolved. Once all the assets have been valued, the court will decide how to equitably distribute the property. The judge will likely work hard to split all relevant assets on a 50/50 basis, and he or she will also likely consider the wishes of each spouse, but ultimately they will divide the property as justly as they see fit. Every marriage and divorce is unique, and equitable distribution will always be considered on a case-by-case basis.

As you can imagine, when decisions regarding the distribution of property in a divorce are left to the courts, things can become extremely complicated quite quickly. It is absolutely essential that you enlist the services of a skilled divorce attorney who understands all of the nuances inherent in the equitable distribution process, and who will fight to ensure you receive the most reasonable divorce settlement possible. If you are considering a divorce in the state of North Carolina, please contact the family law attorneys of the NC Adoption Law Center: A Family Law Firm today.

Written by N.C. Adoption Law Center

N.C. Adoption Law Center

We work hard to provide all our clients with the best and and most helpful legal services. Our attorneys specialize in adoption and other family law cases including divorce, child custody, child support, guardianship, and more.