For many of us, our children are the most important parts of our lives. Certainly, as we attempt to navigate all of the issues that come with divorce, not only child support and child custody but even the way we divide our property or decide whether or not to relocate for our job – our children are at the forefront of our minds. Though many things may change following a divorce, this is not one of them. Especially following the divorce, many parents are worried about their children-worried about how they will handle the transition from one home to two, and how they will deal with the complex emotions they may have. This is an understandable concern-and the truth is that unfortunately there is nothing you can do to entirely take away the pain of divorce for your children. The good news, however, is that there are things that you can do to help your children navigate this often difficult and emotionally confusing time, and come out healthy and happy on the other side:
In an ideal world, alimony payments would always be made on time, and be of help to the dependent spouse as they are intended to. Unfortunately, however, the real world can often be less than ideal. In some circumstances, for any number of reasons, one spouse will fail to make the required alimony payments to the other. While this is unfortunate, the law fortunately provides remedies for those spouses who deserve alimony and are not receiving it.
If the parties initially determined alimony via a separation agreement, their initial attempts at enforcement will understandably be different than if alimony was determined by a court order. Separation agreements are generally governed by contract law, and as a result, those seeking to enforce a contract must file an enforcement action in civil court if the spouse is not following the terms of the contract, unless the agreement was previously incorporated into an enforceable court judgement. If a party attempts a contract enforcement action without success, they can file an initial action for alimony with the court, though this will of course take an additional amount of time and effort. It must be understood, however, that if your divorce has been processed before you file a court action for alimony, the court will lose jurisdiction to enter an award of alimony. A court action for alimony must be pending before your absolute divorce is entered.
On the other hand, if a court initially entered the alimony determination, the parties may return to the court to seek enforcement of the order. After being notified that one spouse is significantly behind on his or her obligation to pay alimony, and after verifying that this is the case through proof presented by the dependent spouse, the court may order the amount to be paid in a lump sum to the dependent spouse. If the supporting spouse does not have enough cash to cover the delinquent amount, the court may potentially order the transfer of title to other property to the dependent spouse, might garnish the supporting spouse’s wages or bank account, or might place a lien against the supporting spouse’s real or personal property until the delinquency is satisfied. If a case is extreme enough, the court might find the non-paying spouse in contempt, which can result in additional fines and even jail time.
Without question, worrying about your children and making the time and effort to ensure that they are taken care of and provided for throughout the divorce process and after should be one of your primary concerns as a parent. However, it is also important to remember that in the midst of caring for your children, you also shouldn’t forget to care for yourself. After all, it can be hard to fill others up when you are feeling empty yourself. Sometimes, people can have a tendency to neglect self-care or put it in the back burner following a divorce, feeling that there are simply more important things deserving of their time. We would argue against this misconception, and would encourage you to remember that when you feel better, and when you have more energy, you are better able to meet the challenges of each day, and to care for those you love.
Often, people think of property in terms of tangible items, and this is understandable. It’s important not to overlook non-tangible property however – not only things like retirement and pension accounts, but also things like insurance policies, which have definite value, and which must be addressed as you prepare to move forward down two separate paths. As you prepare to negotiate and divide your property during the divorce, it can be helpful to maintain a detailed inventory of all of your existing insurance policies, as well as all of the designated beneficiaries on those policies.
Depending upon the particular circumstances one spouse may be required to maintain the other spouse on their insurance policy for any number of reasons, so it is also important to consult with a knowledgeable and experienced attorney as to your circumstances before making any final decisions one way or the other. In addition, as you prepare for divorce, it can be helpful to begin the process of obtaining quotes for new policies if you will be canceling your old ones. Doing so will save you time and headache in the long run.
Many rely on COBRA coverage after a divorce until they can arrange for a new policy. It is, however, always a wise decision to contact your insurance company to discuss the divorce, as well as what steps might need to be taken (and what costs will be incurred) to continue the coverage. It should also be noted that in some settlement agreements as part of the property division between the parties, one spouse agrees to cover the full or partial COBRA payments for the spouse and/or children who were formerly named on the regular insurance policy.
If one or both spouses have life insurance policies, the beneficiaries and terms of those policies will need to be reviewed and possibly negotiated during the property division process. It can be helpful, after an absolute divorce is granted, to provide the divorce decree to your insurance company and instruct them to notify all beneficiaries of any policy changes or missed payments. This can help to ensure that the policy premiums continue to be maintained, and that the policy remains active, and up-to-date with the appropriate beneficiary information.
It can be helpful to consider how the insurance policy might fit into your overall estate plan, as life insurance proceeds are generally included in the estate. Some choose to use a helpful planning tool called an Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust, or ILIT. An attorney who understands family law and estate planning will be able to advise you as to whether a tool like this might be helpful in your particular circumstances.
If you and/or your spouse do not have life insurance policies, this does not necessarily mean that you should entirely ignore this issue during your divorce. In some situations, couples who are divorcing and do not have insurance are actually ordered by the court to acquire insurance. Typically, this occurs in a situation where the divorcing couple has children, and one spouse earns significantly more than the other. In that situation, the court will often order the spouse who earns more income to obtain a life insurance policy naming the ex-spouse as a beneficiary in order to ensure future financial security in the place of standard support obligations if the higher-earning spouse passes away.
Contact Adkins Law if you need to speak with an experienced family law attorney to arrange a consultation.
Certainly, making the decision to move away after a divorce and after an initial custody arrangement is determined can be a hard decision for anyone to have to make. Whether the move is for a new job, because of a remarriage, or simply to start a fresh chapter in a new setting, much consideration often goes into making that choice. That choice certainly becomes more complicated when children are involved, and it must be decided whether the children will relocate as well, or whether current custody arrangements will change in some way.
If you or your ex-spouse is considering a relocation, it is always wise to check your separation agreement or child custody order for any restrictions on relocation that may exist. Some custody orders place restrictions on parents moving out of state or moving the children more than a specified number of miles away. If you have such restrictions in your custody order and you violate them, you could be found to be in contempt of court and subject to a variety of penalties, which may, depending on the severity of the situation even involve the loss of some of your custodial rights. For most parents, this simply isn’t worth the risk.
Even if your separation agreement or custody order does not specifically place limits on traveling or relocating, those considering doing so should still be cautious, as moving without the consent of the other party or the permission of the court might later be used against you, or result in the other parent seeking an emergency custody order for the return of your child to North Carolina.
This is not to say that relocation will never be allowed. In fact, in many circumstances, courts do allow a parent, particularly if that parent is the child’s primary physical custodian, to relocate with the child. As is always the case in contested custody issues, the court will seek to make a decision regarding the proposed relocation that is ultimately in the best interest of the child. If a parent objects to the other parent relocating with the child, that parent will have the burden of presenting evidence that the move is not in the child’s best interest.
Ultimately, a relocation may end up being the best decision for your family, and certainly as a parent, you are in the best position to know whether or not that is so. Regardless, however, it is important to think through that decision carefully, and to make sure you are making it in accordance with the terms of any agreements or orders already in place in your case. Doing so is ultimately in the best interest of all involved.
If you need to speak to an experienced family law attorney regarding your child custody arrangement, please contact Adkins Law to arrange a consultation.
Under the United States Constitution, and under North Carolina law, parents have the “paramount right to custody, care, and nurture” of their minor children.” This is otherwise known as the “superior rights doctrine,” and essentially, it means that parents are considered to have rights that are superior to those of non-parents when it comes to determining and acting in the best interests of their children. Thus, for the most part, in North Carolina and across the country, courts will seek to allow parents to maintain custody of their children whenever it is possible.
In certain instances, however, parents may be unwilling or unable to provide a safe and nurturing environment for their children. In those situations, the court may consider other options, and grandparents may seek to petition the court for custody of their grandchildren. Certainly, if you are a parent or a grandparent who finds yourself in this situation, consulting an attorney should be your first step.
Generally, however, it can be helpful to know that as a grandparent seeking custody of your grandchildren under the North Carolina General Statutes, in order to seek custody of your grandchildren, you must be able to demonstrate to the court that the child’s parents are unable to fulfill their parental duties, which essentially means that you must establish that the parents have taken actions that are inconsistent with their paramount constitutional right to custody of the child(ren). While there are different ways to meet this burden of proof, in some cases grandparents may show that an unfit parent may:
· Have abandoned their child;
· Have continually neglected their child;
· Have abused their child;
· Have shown an ongoing pattern of substance abuse;
· Have decided to voluntarily give up custody of their child;
· Be unable to provide a safe and nurturing home for their child;
· Have a proven history of domestic violence;
· Be unable in other ways to provide the safe and nurturing home that the child needs to grow and thrive.
If, considering the law and the proof that is required to obtain custody you believe you can do so, you can proceed to seek custody under N.C. Gen. Stat §50-13.1(a). Under this provision, you can file your claim for custody at any time, provided you can establish standing to do so. Standing simply means that the person who is seeking the custody has a right or interest that is recognized and protected under the law. Certainly, the ultimate determination as to whether or not a grandparent is granted custody will be left to the discretion of the court, as is the case with all custody matters.
In other situations, grandparents may only be interested in seeking visitation with their grandchildren, as opposed to full custody. In that situation, parents continue to have the paramount authority with respect to the care and well-being of their children. Accordingly, unless certain elements of proof are met, it is unlikely that a court will order a parent to allow visitation with their grandchildren. While grandparents do have a right to file a motion to intervene in an ongoing custody action between the parents to seek visitation, this does not mean that the request will be granted. Generally, and absent extraordinary and extenuating circumstances, courts feel that the parents are best suited to make this determination on their own.
 North Carolina law does recognize two situations in which a non-parent has standing to seek custody of a child, including when: (1)The non-parent has a parent-like relationship with the child (when the person has assumed parental duties and has an emotional attachment to the child similar to that of a parent; or (2)The non-parent has a biological or adoptive relationship with the child, and there are allegations of abuse, neglect, or unfitness against the child’s parent(s).
If you need to speak with an experienced divorce attorney regarding grandparent visitation and custody, please contact Adkins Law to arrange a consultation.
Divorce is a complex process. After all, untangling two lives that have become intertwined over many years isn’t easy. There are many decisions you’ll have to make during the divorce process. As you prepare to make those decisions – decisions regarding the division of property (including your assets and debts), the potential sale of your home, the updating of your legal and insurance documents, and other important matters, gathering information pertaining to those matters ahead of time will help to simplify matters to some degree.
It is also unfortunate to say, but important to be aware, that in a divorce, relationships can become extremely strained. Often, people can become so emotional that they act in unpredictable ways which are completely out of character. It is not unusual for a spouse to take paperwork without the other spouse’s knowledge, or even to destroy important paperwork in anger, or out of a desire for revenge. Even if you may not expect that sort of behavior from your spouse, it is still a wise precaution to save copies of important documentation and information while you still have access to it.
Certainly, the information needed will vary depending upon your unique circumstances. However, information that is usually helpful to gather includes:
With respect to any documentation you may gather, it is always best to collect at least three to five years’ worth of information if possible, or more if you have been in a long-term marriage. Although gathering this information may be time-consuming and tedious, it is a worthwhile effort in the long run in order to save yourself time, expense, and headache down the road.
If you need to speak with an experienced divorce attorney, please contact Adkins Law to arrange a consultation.
We live in a “do-it-yourself” age, and the practice of law is no exception. There is, after all, so much information available online, that many make the assumption that they can learn all they need to know, and handle the divorce process for themselves. While it is understandable that some might make this assumption, it is an assumption that comes with many hidden costs and pitfalls. Often, people go into a do-it-yourself divorce process assuming they will save money and time, when in fact, doing so ends up costing them more of both. Even if your case may seem “simple” and as if you and your spouse may agree on many issues, it is far too easy to make mistakes that may come back to haunt you down the road. Some of the more common pitfalls of do-it-yourself divorce include:
Ultimately, even if you feel that your divorce is “simple” in nature, and that you and your spouse agree upon all important issues, seeking the advice of a knowledgeable and experienced attorney will help to ensure that the process ultimately goes smoothly, and that you do not encounter any unexpected (and potentially costly) issues in the future. You may lose rights to valuable property and assets you would otherwise be entitled to, or end up paying more or getting less in alimony or support than you otherwise would, or losing a substantial amount of parenting time with your children – and those are only a few possibilities of many.
An attorney who is qualified and experienced in the practice of family law will be able to identify any issues you may have overlooked, point out any potential negative consequences of certain decisions, and advise you of what to expect throughout the divorce process.
If you have thought it through and have ultimately decided that divorce is the best path forward for your family and your future, then you will soon have many decisions to make as you pursue this decision. From telling your spouse and children to choosing an attorney and gathering important documents that will be necessary as your case proceeds, planning ahead is important. While planning ahead will certainly not make your divorce proceedings stress-free, it will go a long way toward making them less stressful than they would otherwise be. Planning ahead helps to you feel and be more prepared in many life situations, and divorce is no different.
BREAKING THE NEWS: TELLING YOUR SPOUSE AND CHILDREN
Telling Your Spouse
It goes without saying that there is no “easy” way to tell your spouse that you want a divorce – but there are certainly some ways to approach this conversation to make it better than it otherwise might be. First, it should be said that prior to having this conversation with your spouse, you should be very certain that it is a conversation you want to have. Sometimes, without truly thinking it through, one spouse might tell the other that they want a divorce as a way of getting their attention, or persuading their spouse to do something, or to stop doing something. We would caution against this. It is harmful to your relationship if it is not what you truly want, and it may also damage your credibility in the future, when you truly do feel that divorce is the best option.
Once you have officially made the decision to proceed with divorce however, and you are certain that it is what you want, it is worth making every effort to ensure that a conversation which has the potential to be very uncomfortable and painful goes as smoothly as it possibly can. Of course, every relationship, and every set of circumstances leading up to this conversation will be unique. Ultimately, you know your spouse best, as well as the best time, place, and manner in which to have this conversation. Keeping that in mind, here are some helpful guidelines for making a difficult conversation slightly less so:
While you will not entirely eliminate any emotional stress during a divorce conversation by taking these steps, they will make a difference in the overall tone of the conversation, and should help to make a painful situation more manageable for you, and for your spouse. After telling your spouse, the two of you will want to decide, together, when and how it is best to tell your children.
Telling Your Children About Divorce
While divorce is certainly difficult for everyone, perhaps one of the hardest aspects is worrying about how it might affect your children. Without question, a certain amount of pain and heartache is inevitable – any time that a family splits apart, this will be the case. However, how you handle these matters with your children – both in the way that you talk to and interact with them, and in the way that you choose to interact with your spouse in the future – can make a significant difference in whether the overall impact of the divorce is negative or positive.
With that in mind, you and your spouse will of course need to decide together how you plan to approach the first conversation with your children when you tell them about your decision to divorce. Of course, each family is unique. You know your own children best, and are in the best position to determine how to break the news to them in a way that will be as emotionally healthy as possible. Some guidelines to consider when doing so include:
While telling your children about your divorce will certainly not be easy, the manner in which you do so is very important. Take the time necessary to have a thorough conversation, and put ample thought into that conversation beforehand. Stay calm, and make sure that both parents stay on the same page and remain committed to putting their emotional issues aside for the sake of their children’s well-being during this time. Doing so will make the divorce process easier for your entire family.
If you need to speak with an experienced family law attorney, contact Adkins Law to arrange a consultation.
As most of us well know, we live in a high-tech, digital world – a world which is becoming increasingly more so with each moment. It is a world full of “smart” devices – smart phones, smart cars, smart televisions, even smart homes. In so many ways, technology adds to our world. We are more connected than ever, the pace of business moves faster, and we can receive our news and updates from family and friends across the globe in an instant. All of these things are wonderful. As with all wonderful things, however, there are downsides. One of the downsides of technology, insofar as family law is concerned, is that it gives us the capacity to spy and eavesdrop on one another with greater ease than ever before. While people have always been able to spy on one another with more traditional methods like tracing, wiretapping, or hiring a private investigator, today’s technology makes it easier than ever before – and this can ultimately cause a number of problems for everyone involved.
Particularly in marriages that are already troubled, spying can be quite a temptation. It’s natural to what to know what we don’t know, and this can be a particularly strong urge when we suspect that our spouse may be having an affair or hiding a bad habit from us. This desire is entirely understandable. It is natural to hope to disprove our suspicions, or to be able to plan how we should take action if we find out that they are true.
While these feelings are understandable, and it is important to know that they should be resisted – for many reasons. Choosing to spy on your spouse is not only an unhealthy behavior that encourages mistrust – in many cases, it is also illegal. Many spouses who are emotionally stressed and desperate to find out the truth about their spouse so they can determine how to move forward unfortunately do not realize this or take it into account until it’s too late.
If you suspect that your spouse is, or may soon attempt to spy on you, or, alternatively, if you are thinking of spying on your spouse, you should contact an attorney immediately. Engaging in illegal methods of spying could not only be devastating from an emotional standpoint – it could also expose you to serious legal liability, which is the last thing you need as you contemplate divorce.
What the Law Says About Spying
Legally, from both a federal and state perspective, spying on your spouse is simply not a good idea. Indeed, both federal laws, and the laws of the state of North Carolina prohibit many commonly used methods of spying on one’s spouse. It is important to have a basic understanding of these laws in order to know what activities could potentially expose you – or your spouse – to liability.
The Electronic Communications Privacy Act and the Stored Wire and Electronic Communications Act are federal laws that apply to spying, and which are commonly referred to jointly as the Electronic Communications Privacy Act. Initially enacted in 1968, these laws were created to ban wiretapping of telephone line, but have continually evolved with changing times. Today, the law applies to such varied methods of digital communication as emails, cell phones, voicemails, text messaging, online chats, voiceover IP, and more.
Broadly speaking, the ECPA makes it illegal to record or eavesdrop on communications that your spouse makes without his or her consent. This would include wiretapping phone lines, installing spyware on a spouse’s computer without their knowledge, “hacking” into your spouse’s email account, and other similar activities taken without the spouse’s knowledge for the purpose of intercepting their communications.
Certainly, if your spouse authorizes you to read or listen to their communications then legality is not a concern. Unfortunately, however, what constitutes “authorization” can be somewhat of a gray area. These matters are best discussed with a knowledgeable and experienced attorney who understands the law and how it might apply to your particular circumstances, as courts decide these matters on a case-by-case basis. Generally, however, to determine whether your access to your spouse’s communications is likely to be considered “authorized” or not, is to ask yourself whether the actions you’re taking feel like an invasion of your spouse’s privacy. If the answer is yes, it would be best to avoid taking them.
North Carolina has its own act that addresses the interception of wire, oral, or electronic communications, known as the North Carolina Electronic Surveillance Act. This act addresses much of the same information as its federal counterpart, and makes it illegal to intercept your spouse’s communications – whether over the phone or electronically – without their consent.
In addition to these laws, those who are considering spousal spying should also be aware that North Carolina recognizes several tort claims that are also applicable to activities like spying. These causes of action are intended to protect privacy. One of those is known as “Intrusion upon Seclusion,” which essentially means that invasion of privacy is recognized in North Carolina as grounds for a lawsuit. In such a lawsuit, one spouse would assert that the other intentionally intruded into their private affairs, and that a reasonable person would find the intrusion highly offensive.
In order for such a claim to be successful, the intrusion does not necessarily have to be a physical intrusion – certainly, it could include hacking into an email account or bugging a phone. Physical intrusions qualify as well, however – placing a GPS tracking on a car without knowledge or permission, for example, might suffice to bring this type of claim as well.
North Carolina also recognizes other torts that could apply depending on the details of the situation, and consultation with an attorney to better understand the details of those laws would be a wise course of action.
Seek Legal Advice Before Spying
Without question, spying on a spouse can be tempting – particularly if you suspect your spouse of hiding hurtful or harmful behaviors. If you have reached a point in your marriage where you are seriously contemplating divorce, it is understandable to want to obtain information that will confirm or disprove your suspicions. Certainly, in some situations, evidence of inappropriate behavior can be helpful to your case during divorce proceedings, as we’ll discuss later in this guide. It is important to collect that information in the right way, though, and an attorney who understands the law can advise you as to how best to go about doing that in a legal manner. Consulting an attorney prior to taking any action that might be questionable or reflect poorly on you in a future divorce proceeding is always a wise decision, and we would encourage anyone contemplating spying to take that important step first.
In essence, after all of the foregoing factors are considered, our advice to those who are contemplating divorce would be this: Truly take the time you need to think through your decision in the most thorough manner possible. Divorce is a life-changing decision. That’s not to say that it might not be the right one, but it is a decision that certainly should not be made in haste, or from a place of intense emotion that might later subside. Truly think through your emotions, envision your future, and consider the practical realities of what divorce means. As you’re doing so, be careful not to take other actions – spying, having affairs, or engaging in other behaviors – that might be detrimental to you in future divorce proceedings. Doing so puts you on the best footing to go forward down whatever path you ultimately decide is best.
If you need to speak with an experienced family law attorney, please contact Adkins Law to arrange a consultation.