Our firm can assist you in all areas of family law including those areas related to the end of a marital relationship and planning for a marital relationship. Many of these issues can be resolved by agreement and the terms of the agreement can be put in a formal, legal document such as a separation agreement, premarital agreement, or consent order. Our firm can negotiate the terms of and can prepare these legal documents for you. If the issues can’t be resolved by agreement, we may need to ask the court to hear the case and make the necessary decisions. Our firm has years of experience negotiating and litigating family law issues.
We believe that a lawyer should be able to adapt his or her personal style to serve best the needs of the client in each particular case. A versatile lawyer can be cooperative but firm in negotiation when the objective is to settle the case, and can be aggressive and “play hardball” when a case is in litigation. By comparison, a lawyer whose only style is to be aggressive and combative will decrease the chances of reaching a successful settlement. Further, a lawyer whose only style is to be “laid back” will not serve the client well in the courtroom. Our versatile approach is intended to maximize the quality of legal representation and to further your goals in your case.
We represent both men and women in family law cases. We seek the most favorable result for each client in his or her own case, since each case is unique. This approach allows us to do an objective legal analysis and gives us a balanced background. Our only “agenda” is promoting our client’s interest through the best quality legal representation.
While you do not have to enter into a separation agreement to be legally separated in North Carolina, many people do choose to have one prepared. A separation agreement is a the written, notarized agreement governing each party’s rights and responsibilities associated with the end of the marriage. It usually includes provisions concerning custody of children, the payment of child support, the division of property and debts, and the payment of alimony. Some people believe that they can just come to an informal agreement with their spouse, but problems often arise when one spouse decides that he or she does not like that agreement anymore. If your agreement is in the form of a written, legally binding separation agreement, then you can enforce the agreement in court. Some people attempt the “do it yourself” route for separation agreements, but often those agreements are not done properly and are not enforceable in court. There can be hidden issues or consequences that you would not know about without legal counsel. We recommend that you have a separation agreement prepared by a lawyer experienced in negotiating the terms of that agreement and preparing the agreement in such a way that your rights are protected and can be enforced. Our office has extensive experience in the negotiation and preparation of separation agreements and would be happy to assist you.
Pre-marital Agreements can be prepared to either to plan ahead on what happens in the event of divorce or to complement estate planning when you have children by a prior relationship. Even if you are not concerned about the possibility of separation, if you have children by a prior marriage and want to be sure your estate plan benefits those children in some way upon your death, you need a pre-marital agreement as part of your estate plan. Having a pre-marital agreement doesn’t necessarily mean that you believe the upcoming marriage will likely fail – you probably have fire insurance on your home, but that doesn’t mean you expect your home will have a fire. Accordingly, many people choose to protect themselves (or their children by a prior relationship) in advance by entering into a written agreement before marriage. By entering into a pre-marital agreement, you can decide in advance what will happen to your property and money should your marriage end in divorce or death. Pre-marital agreements are often done by people who are coming into a marriage with separate property that they want to protect, such as family land, or by people who are entering into second marriages. Our firm can assist you with the preparation of a pre-marital agreement.
North Carolina is a “no fault” divorce state. That means that you can get a divorce based upon a year’s separation without having to prove that your spouse did anything wrong. You must, however, have lived separate and apart from your spouse (usually meaning out from under the same roof) for one year before you can file for the divorce. The entire process for a simple divorce, from the date of the filing of the divorce complaint to the Court’s granting of the divorce judgment, is usually about 2 months. In most cases, our client does not even have to go to court for having the divorce judgment entered; we can do that for you on the paperwork.
Although the divorce process is fairly straightforward, we do not recommend that you try to “do it yourself.” You need to know what effects a divorce will have on you before a divorce judgment is entered. Most people who are not lawyers do not know all of these effects. For example, did you know that once a divorce judgment is entered, you lose the right to ask the Court to divide your marital property or to award you alimony unless that right is expressly preserved in the divorce judgment? If you talk with a lawyer who is knowledgeable in the area of family law, you can protect your legal rights. Our firm can assist you with your divorce.
Two people who have children together, whether they have been married to each other or not, often find themselves living separate and needing to make decisions about the custody of their children. If you are in agreement or are close to agreement about custody and visitation, then we can formalize that agreement as a part of a separation agreement or as a consent custody order.
If you simply cannot agree, a custody case should be filed and a Judge will make the decision. The Court will first send you to custody mediation where a mediator will help the two of you to try to work out an agreement. If you cannot agree even with the help of a mediator, then a Judge will decide what is best for the children.
Making decisions about custody and visitation is often the most emotional part of the end of a relationship. We can help you with this process by negotiating and preparing an agreement or by litigating the issue of custody.
The law in North Carolina is that both parents of a child have a responsibility for providing financially for a child. This responsibility is determined by a calculation that takes into account your income, the income of the other parent, the cost of day care, the cost of health insurance for the child, and certain other expenses. Although this process is generally straight forward, sometimes it is difficult to determine exactly what a person’s income is (for example if a person is self employed). Sometimes collecting the child support payments is the problem.
Child support issues are usually resolved outside of Court, but sometimes a Judge must make a ruling on child support. A Judge can also do things that make it more likely that child support will actually be paid, such as ordering the childs upport be taken directly out of someone’s paycheck. Our firm has years of experience in negotiating and litigating the issue of child support and we can help you to determine the amount of the child support obligation and can help to get that obligation set by agreement or through litigation.
Alimony is financial support paid by one spouse to another spouse after the spouses are separated. The determination of whether you (or the opposing party) would be entitled to receive alimony and how much is based upon several factors including your income, your monthly expenses, your spouses income, your spouse’s monthly expenses, the length of the marriage, whether either spouse committed martial misconduct.
Alimony can be determined either by agreement or by Court order. Our firm can help you to determine whether you (or the opposing party) would be entitled to receive alimony and evaluate the likely amount. We can help negotiate the issue of alimony and can include the negotiated agreement in a separation agreement. If negotiations are not successful, we can litigate the issue for you.
“Equitable distribution” is the legal name for dividing assets and debts at the end of a marriage. North Carolina law starts with the presumption that it is fair to divide all marital assets and debts equally, but there are many reasons that allow one party to obtain an unequal distribution in his or her favor. Sometimes equitable distribution can be accomplished by agreement. Although many people choose to work out those issues by discussion with their spouse, it is a good idea to talk to a lawyer first so that you fully understand your legal rights. For example, did you know that you might be entitled to receive part of your spouse’s retirement account? Did you know that you might be entitled to half of the money in bank accounts that are just in your spouse’s name? We can help you determine what all of the marital assets and debts are and can help you to negotiate a fair division of those assets and debts and can include the negotiated agreement in a separation agreement. If negotiation is not successful, we can litigate the issue for you.
Many people believe that because their marriage has only lasted a short amount of time or because they never lived with their spouse, they can get an annulment instead of a divorce. In North Carolina, annulments are very rare and are granted in very than your first cousin or when you are married to someone who was not divorced from a previous spouse before marrying you. We can help you to determine whether you can have your marriage annulled. If so, we can assist you with that. If you need a divorce instead, we can assist you in obtaining the divorce.
Other Family Law Issues
There are other family law issues that deal with the legal relationships of parents and children. These issues include termination of parental rights (TPR) and adoptions. TRP and adoption proceedings are complex and are nearly impossible to do without an attorney.
Termination of Parental Rights
Under certain circumstances you can ask the Court to sever the legal relationship between a child and that child’s parent. Because this process forever cuts off the relationship of parent and child, the Court will carefully consider whether this action should be taken. If you are considering having someone’s parental rights terminated, or if someone is attempting to have your parental rights terminated, we can help you.
When you adopt a child, you assume the legal relationship of parent to that child. After an adoption, that child is for all legal purposes your natural child. A child can be adopted by one who is unrelated to the child (stranger adoption), by one who is related to the child (relative adoption) or by a step-parent (step-parent adoption). These three different processes have different procedural requirements. All three types of adoption change the legal relationships between the child, his biological parents, and his adoptive parents. Because of the sometimes complicated procedures involved, you will need to have assistance with the process. Our firm can help you with the adoption process.
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