The following is a brief outline of steps to take when beginning the process of divorce and separation. There are several legal categories to be aware of when surveying the entirety of such an undertaking: (1) equitable distribution or dividing the marital estate, (2) spousal support and alimony, (3) child custody, and (4) child support. In essence, consider your divorce as comprised of these four pillars, each of which likely relates to the other.
Equitable distribution is, in sum, simply a way to divide marital assets and debts. To gain a complete overview of your estate, begin compiling a list of all debts and assets. This should include a list of all real estate, vehicles, and valuable personal property. Also, make a list of all deposit accounts you and your spouse have with banking institutions. Include in your list all securities and stocks, together with all retirements accounts (pensions, 401(k)s, etc.). Be exhaustive. You can never have too much information during this data-collecting phase. Be sure to include whose name is listed as an owner or title-holder (be it in your sole name, theirs, or jointly). This will be important when your divorce attorney begins assessing the data you've compiled.
Spousal Support and Alimony:
Spousal support may or may not be an issue in your separation and divorce. This area of the law is very fact-specific. To help you and your divorce lawyer assess the likelihood of a claim of spousal support, begin by using your annual income from all sources (W-2 income, 1099 income, gifts from family, trust disbursements, etc.). Do the same for your spouse. Next, you’ll want to survey your expenses. All this data will become important in determining whether there is a dependent and supporting spouse, both prerequisite findings for an award of spousal support. Finally, catalogue as much information about the standard of living you developed during the marriage so you and your divorce attorney can decide if other pertinent facts will preclude or bolster a claim for support.
For obvious reasons, child custody determinations are not as numbers-driven an area of law and, hence, are a bit more subjective. Maybe you’re seeking full custody or are hoping to get the children most days of a given week. Discussing the facts in your specific situation will help you and your attorney develop a schedule which best serves your needs and the interests of the children. Your divorce attorney will offer you some of the more prevalent schedules used in custody arrangements—be it a week-on/week-off, a 2-2-3, or an every-other-weekend scenario. It’s helpful to keep notes and journals concerning how the parenting happens, together with any events in the children’s lives you’ll want to use to support your parenting schedule position. Remember that the days of dads getting only a couple overnights every two weeks with the kids are no longer the norm. Depending on the jurisdiction and the judge, dads may be as likely as moms to have equal time with their children. Also be sure to discuss the differences between physical and legal custody with your attorney.
Once you’ve established the basic schedule (i.e., number of overnights with your children), the child support determination is fairly straightforward. North Carolina, in most instances, relies on Worksheet A and B. Depending on your setup, you’ll likely fall onto on of these two worksheets. Talk with your divorce lawyer about how your overnight schedules relate to the worksheet you’ll use. (There’s also a Worksheet C, but this often goes unused). Additionally, if you make beyond the statutory income threshold, you may require a child support determination outside the rubric of the worksheets. Health insurance premiums, daycare costs, and a couple other factors play into the worksheet formulations as well. Bottom line, keep a catalogue of these expenses (and of both parties’ monthly incomes).
Depending on your unique situation, your divorce may include all four of these categories or only a couple. You may even discover your situation involves none of them at all. If, for example, you have a very short marriage with little to no substantial assets, dividing the marital estate may not be worth the attorney fees involved in dividing things up. Every family situation is different. In sum, use this short guide as a springboard to beginning your new (and better) stage in life.
David is a Charlotte Divorce Lawyer and Family Law Attorney