If you are a party to a lawsuit in the State of North Carolina, then you can represent yourself. This is called a "pro se" litigant. However, it is very important that pro se litigants be very careful because they will be held to the same unforgiving standards as licensed attorneys. Historically, this concept is referred to as "caveat emptor," which translates as buyer beware. In other words, make sure that you protect yourself by being aware of your rights and limitations under state and federal law. In most cases, you get one chance to resolve divorce-related issues, so you'll want to do it right the first time. Hiring an experienced family law attorney who is familiar with the laws related to divorce, child custody, child support, spousal support and equitable distribution can be one of the most important investment you can ever make. Missing a deadline and making other important missteps can have dire consequences, which could impact your children or your finances, so it is usually a good idea to consult with an attorney to determine the best way to proceed under your unique circumstances.
2. What are the legal grounds for obtaining a divorce?
You must be legally separated for at least 1 full and uninterrupted year in order to obtain a divorce in North Carolina. Legal separation is a commonly misunderstood topic, and even though you have decided to get a divorce, you might not be separated. Everyone's situation is different, but generally speaking, in order to be legally separated you must be physically separated and one or both parties must intend to end the marriage.
3. Who determines how assets are divided in a divorce?
If the parties are able to resolve their equitable distribution case by agreement, then the parties decide how their assets will be divided. Otherwise, a Judge (or possibly an arbitrator) will make the decision.
4. How do courts determine who gets custody of children in a divorce?
Courts make custody decisions based on what is in the best interests of the children. This can involve a large number of factors unique to your circumstances such as parent-child relationships, stability of each parent, work schedules, the parents' respective abilities to raise their children in a nurturing environment, and many other factors. It is crucial to consult with an experienced family law attorney in order to help protect your custody rights in a way that is best for your children. Everyone's family life is different, and it is impossible to generalize about something as broad or as important as the custody of minor children.
5. What is joint custody?
Joint custody refers to at least two different concepts. One is joint physical custody, which means the parents each have the children in their care at least one-third of the overnights in a year. The other is joint legal custody, which means the parents must discuss and agree upon major decisions impacting the children, and neither parent can make a decision without the agreement of the other.
6. What happens if a parent does not pay court-ordered child support?
The party entitled to receive child support can file a contempt motion and ask a Judge to intervene. The non-paying parent might be subjected to a variety of consequences ranging from a censure to a requirement to get current within a defined time period or even incarceration in the Mecklenburg County Jail. Additionally, it is sometimes possible to force the non-paying party to pay for the filing party's attorney's fees incurred to force compliance with the court order. But the receiving party should be very careful about filing a contempt motion without the help of an attorney because these motions require the litigant to meet certain stringent legal burdens before a Judge is empowered to grant the motion.
7. Do grandparents have visitation rights to their children?
Under certain limited situations, yes. However, this is a complicated area of custody law, and in many cases grandparents do not have custody or visitation rights. In filing for such rights, it is highly important that the grandparents talk with an experienced family law attorney about how to "intervene" as a party to the lawsuit, and to ensure that the court filings include certain necessary allegations or the motion will be denied by a Judge.
8. What is the main difference between "legal" and "physical" custody of a child?
"Legal" custody refers to how parents in a custody case will make major decisions impacting the children. Sometimes the parents must discuss and agree before decisions can be made. Other times, one parent might be able to make the final decision even if the other parent objects. It is very important that you discuss this with your attorney so that you don't lose the ability to participate equally in important decisions for your children. "Physical" custody refers to the schedule when the children will be with each parent. Every family handles school weeks, weekends, holidays and summers differently, and a physical custody schedule should be tailored to the unique needs of the children and parents in a way that promotes the children's development. A good family law attorney will start by learning about the children's likes, dislikes, strengths, weaknesses and unique needs, and then advise the parent-client on what custody schedule might work best for them.
9. Can anyone other than a parent get custody of a child?
Yes, under limited circumstances, North Carolina State Law allows anyone who has a certain level of relationship with a child to seek custody. However, certain circumstances must be present before a non-parent can be awarded custody of a minor child.
10. Can a different state enforce child support if my ex moves out of state?
Yes, all 50 states have child support enforcement agencies who can assist a recipient of child support in getting paid when the other parent has moved outside the State of North Carolina. Those agencies will require a valid agreement or court order, along with other needed documentation. Your family law attorney can assist you in establishing payment assistance through other states.
11. If I lost my job, can I be relieved of my child support obligations?
Yes, under most circumstances you can seek a reduction of your child support obligation after a job loss. However, it is important that you file the necessary motion quickly in order to take advantage of this right. Your attorney will want to speak with you about the reasons for your job loss, as well as your prospects and efforts in obtaining a new job.
12. Can my child support "arrears" be discharged if I file for bankruptcy?
No, child support is not a dischargeable financial obligation in bankruptcy. The law protects children to a greater degree than it protects other individuals who are owed money.