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.
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.
Criminal Conversation and Alienation of Affection Lawsuits
For those contemplating an affair, or who suspect that their spouse might be, it is important to realize that North Carolina law not only lists adultery as a criminal offense, but also has civil causes of action which can be brought against those who engage in affairs. These lawsuits are called “criminal conversation” or “alienation of affection” actions, and allow one spouse to sue for damages based on allegations of emotional harm caused to the marital relationship by a third party. These suits are usually brought by one spouse against the lover of the other spouse who had an affair, and in North Carolina, juries have awarded millions of dollars as a result of these lawsuits.
Understandably, it can often be difficult to prove that sexual intercourse actually occurred. As a result, in many of these situations, circumstantial evidence is accepted as proof. This essentially means proving that the spouse being charged with adultery had the opportunity and desire to engage in it. One example of this might consist of proving that the spouse being charged and the third party booked a hotel room and spent several hours there together alone without the other spouse’s knowledge. Though it is not actual proof that intercourse occurred, circumstantially, it might be considered sufficient.
It is important to take the possibility of such lawsuits seriously. Though they can be complex and require meeting a certain burden of proof, if successful, it is not unheard of for plaintiffs to receive jury awards in the amount of hundreds of thousands of dollars. If you are contemplating an affair, or believe that your spouse might be, this is certainly important information to know and to keep in mind.
If you are considering cheating on your spouse, the possibility of your spouse bringing one of these lawsuits should the affair be discovered should give you pause. If a relationship is meant to be, it ultimately will be – but waiting for the proper timing is best. Rushing into something that could not only have significant financial consequences, but that could also be used against you in a custody or alimony determination is simply not the best course of action.
On the other side of the coin, if you believe that your spouse had, or continues to have an affair, consulting with an attorney as to whether a lawsuit for criminal conversation might be an option in your circumstances a is wise decision. It is certainly understandable to be hurt and angry if you feel that you have been betrayed by someone you love and who you believed loved you.
Depending on the circumstances, however, it may not be worth the time, effort, and emotional expenditure that filing a lawsuit of this nature might require. In many cases, defendants in these lawsuits are ultimately unable to pay the significant damages assessed against them – they simply don’t have the financial means. In those situations, a spouse who feels hurt will have to decide if obtaining a judgement that will have little or no financial benefit is ultimately worth it. Consulting with an attorney can be very helpful in making that decision, and is always advised.
If you need to speak with a family law attorney to learn more about separation, divorce, alienation of affection, and criminal conversation, please contact Adkins Law to arrange a consultation.
 Only six other states – Hawaii, Illinois, Mississippi, New Mexico, South Dakota, and Utah also have laws allowing a spouse to sue for damages on the basis of emotional harm caused by a third party to the marriage.
Finding yourself in a difficult place in your marriage can be extremely difficult from an emotional perspective, particularly if you have been experiencing those difficulties for some time. Depending upon the nature of your relationship and your troubles, it is entirely understandable that you might feel lonely, frustrated, and without true companionship. No one wants to feel that way, and trying to get through the day while struggling with those feelings can understandably be stressful, draining, and discouraging. It is in these situations, where one or both spouses are struggling with emotional emptiness, that some find themselves more susceptible to becoming involved in affairs, or conversely, discover that their spouse is having an affair.
While affairs are ill-advised for any number of reasons, in North Carolina, they have very real and significant consequences from a legal perspective. In North Carolina, adultery is actually a misdemeanor offense under the criminal code, though it is highly unlikely that a prosecutor would bring criminal charges for an affair. What is far more likely, however, is that adultery, if proven, could significantly impact many aspects of a divorce case – not only from a financial perspective, but also with respect to child custody and other matters of great importance to the parties, not to mention the fact that the spouse harmed by the affair could potentially bring a lawsuit for significant damages under North Carolina law.
How Evidence of an Affair Can Impact Your Divorce Case
Ultimately, evidence of adultery can impact your divorce case in a variety of ways. Some of the most significant include:
If you need to speak with an experienced divorce attorney, please contact Adkins Law to arrange a consultation.
Its an unfortunate reality that domestic abuse exists in some relationships and marriages. In these situations, safety should be your first and foremost priority. If you are in circumstances that are threatening and abusive, remaining in the marital home while you contemplate the divorce process is not only ill-advised – it is potentially very dangerous, for you and for your children. Always trust your instincts, and if you feel that you need to leave immediately, you should do so.
In a situation involving domestic abuse, it is critical to act first and contemplate matters later. If you are a victim of domestic abuse and are considering divorce, it can be very helpful to make a safety plan if you have the ability to do so. If you are in imminent danger, of course you should leave immediately. If you have time, however, taking the following steps can be helpful to protect yourself and your children:
Gathering this documentation can give you peace of mind, not to mention that it could be very helpful in a divorce case in the future.
If you find yourself in a situation involving domestic abuse, after securing your safety and the safety of your children, it can be helpful to think about how you might approach the divorce process itself. Throughout this guide, we try to advocate cooperative divorce resolution methods – typically, the process proceeds more smoothly and is easier for all involved with the parties can work together toward solutions that are satisfactory for everyone.
Unfortunately, however, in situations involving domestic violence, this sort of cooperative negotiation is simply not possible. Throughout the divorce process, your primary emphasis should be on your safety, and on protecting your interests and those of your children. Often, spouses who are controlling and abusive are difficult to negotiate with, and attempt to use the divorce process as a way to punish or prolong their control over the abused spouse.
In those situations, it is important to retain the services of an attorney who understands some of the psychology involved in abusive relationships, and who can advocate for you in a way that will ultimately be effective in pursuing and protecting your interests. This may mean that methods of negotiation like mediation, or collaborative law may not work well in your particular set of circumstances – and that’s okay. Allowing a court to resolve your issues may very well be the best solution, because it will provide the formal distance between you and your spouse that is necessary for your safety and for you to assert your rights without fear of manipulation or verbal abuse. Regardless of how you choose to proceed with resolving the issues between you, it is important to have the services of a knowledgeable and experienced attorney on your side.
As a few final reminders on the subject of domestic abuse, before any other considerations, safety should come first. As a victim of abuse, you should know that you are entitled to feel safe and to live a life free of intimidation and fear. This may mean involving the authorities, if necessary. If you, or your children are suffering from domestic abuse, do not hesitate to call the police if necessary. You may need to file criminal assault charges, or obtain an emergency protective order or a restraining order. Doing so is your right under the law, and it may be necessary. Never hesitate to do what you need to do in order to best protect yourself and those you love. This should always be your first priority.
If you need to speak with an experienced family law attorney regarding domestic violence, please contact Adkins Law to arrange a consultation.
Beyond simply contemplating and envisioning life as it would be after a divorce, some couples who are having ongoing difficulties in their marriage consider separating on a trial basis to actually try it out and experience that reality for themselves. A trial separation is a decision made by couples to take some time apart prior to making the decision to divorce. We would note that importantly, this is different from a legal separation, which is a decision made after a couple has definitively decided to divorce.
Often, it is difficult for some to envision what life might be like after a divorce, and a trial separation is a way to briefly experience that reality prior to definitively making a determination as to whether or not divorce is the best choice. Some couples may also see it as a helpful way to have some space from one another to reduce the intensity of the conflict between them while they work with a counselor in an attempt to decide whether to remain married or pursue a divorce.
While trial separations are a nice idea in theory, we would note that in the majority of situations, couples do not get back together after separating. This may be because one person in the couple feels such a relief in their stress levels after separating that they don’t want to return to difficult emotional circumstances. In other cases, couples who are already facing challenges in improving their relationship may find that they face even more challenges in doing so when they are apart. After separating, couples may only see each other at counseling, and it is difficult to apply the skills and advice from counseling sessions when you are living apart.
Occasionally, some attorneys will suggest that a client who wants a divorce suggest a “trial separation” to the spouse that does not want the divorce as a way of making it easier to ultimately move forward with the divorce process. While this may ultimately be effective in some circumstances, we believe and advise our clients that honesty is best. Being deceitful at the outset of the divorce process sets a bad precedent, and can hurt your credibility for future negotiations with your spouse on important issues that matter.
For those couples who do decide that going forward with a trial separation is best, and if both spouses agree, it can be a wise decision to put into writing the terms of your separation. Consider matters like:
While putting your plans into writing is certainly not required for a legal separation, doing so can nevertheless be helpful in avoiding any issues that may potentially arise.
If you would like to discuss separation and divorce with a family law attorney, please contact Adkins Law to arrange a consultation.