When spouses separate and divorce in North Carolina, one of the issues that must be resolved is the division of the property and debt they acquired during the marriage that still exists when they separate from each other. The marital estate is presumed to consist of all the assets (e.g., residences, retirement, bank accounts, vehicles, business interests, life insurance cash surrender value, furnishings) acquired by either spouse, or by the spouses jointly, between the date of marriage and the date of the physical separation of the parties.
There are exceptions for gifts from third parties and inheritances received during the marriage, which are the separate property of the owner spouse and are not subject to division. In addition, all property that a spouse brings into the marriage that still exists and can be identified on the date of separation remains (with certain exceptions) his or her separate property.
Debts that exist on the date the parties separate (e.g., credit card balances, mortgages, equity lines, vehicle loans) that were incurred for the joint benefit of the parties are also equitably divided. An equal division of the net marital estate (assets minus debts) is presumed to be equitable, or fair.
There are factors that can be considered if one party thinks that the marital estate should not be divided equally, but most of the time, both in court and in private settlements, an equal division is the end result. In addition, an “in-kind” division is preferred, meaning each spouse receives assets and debts of approximately equal value (rather than forcing a sale of assets or requiring one party to pay the other party in exchange for the assets).
Chris and her staff will walk you through the process of gathering the multiple documents necessary for Chris to analyze your equitable distribution claim.