What to Expect When Getting Separated

By Jim Warren

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Unless you’ve been separated or divorced before, or you’re a divorce attorney, it’s likely that you don’t know what’s involved in the process of leaving your spouse and ending your marriage. And if you’re in a situation now where you’re contemplating the end of our marriage, you probably find this ignorance of the separation and divorce process more than a little scary.

Just know that you’re not alone and that a divorce lawyer worth his or her salt will take the time to properly set your expectations and guide you through the process. While it’s impossible to foresee everything that can happen in some cases, we can reasonably predict a lot of factors that will affect the time and money it’ll take to see your separation and divorce through to the end.

It’s important to remember that every marriage is unique. No two couples share exact circumstances. Everyone has to consider the property they brought into the marriage, what they’ve earned and acquired since their nuptials, and most critically, think about the health and well-being of their children.

Here are some common questions that people ask us during our initial consultations:

1)     How long does a divorce take?  A divorce is actually a rather simple process that’s almost always based on a one-year separation. People confuse the other issues of the marriage—child custody and support, post-separation support, alimony, fees, and equitable distribution with the actual dissolution of the marriage. In reality, all of these issues have little to do with ending the bonds of matrimony, except that people generally get separated before pursuing the issues other than the divorce.  Furthermore, you don’t have to pursue both the divorce and all those other issues at the same time.

 You are in fact precluded from pursuing equitable distribution and alimony if those claims are not resolved or pending when a divorce judgment is entered by the court. In other words, you can’t file claims for either alimony or equitable distribution after the divorce judgment is entered. Also, you can pursue the other issues to conclusion and never get an absolute divorce.

The short answer is that divorce takes at least a year in almost all cases. The other issues, which you’ll want to expedite according to your family’s needs and the amicable or acrimonious nature of the proceedings, can take months to years to resolve.

2)     How much does getting a divorce cost?  As with time, costs vary widely, too. The biggest factor determining cost is the couple’s commitment to reaching a settlement without battling. While different levels of complexity of assets and children being involved can take a case that might normally run a few thousand dollars into four figure territory, couples engaging in legal warfare can run up legal bills in the tens of thousands of dollars (or more even, in extreme cases).

3)     What’s the difference between marital property and non-marital property?  Marital property, divisible property, and marital debt are considered for equitable distribution in North Carolina divorces. Property acquired prior to the marriage, as well as individual gifts or inheritances to one spouse (and not both), is not considered part of the marital assets, except in certain circumstances. While equitable distribution is not always equal to a 50/50 split, it’s a nice starting point to assume you’ll be close to an even takeaway from the marriage.

4)     How are child custody and amounts of child support determined?  In North Carolina, parents can agree on their own child custody arrangement, which will include how decisions are made to promote the child’s health and well-being; however, if they contest custody, a judge will weigh all factors and make a custody determination that’s in the child’s best interests. Child support, on the other hand, is set by the North Carolina Child Support guidelines, in most cases, but not all, that take into account both spouses’ income, as well as expenses like health insurance and work-related daycare, in some cases, private school expenses, and other extraordinary costs.

5)     How is alimony or spousal support calculated? Unlike child support, which is strictly applied by a calculator, judges have wide discretion when awarding spousal support during the separation and when the divorce is finalized. The factors that they take into consideration include the length of the marriage, the lifestyle of the couple during the marriage, and marital conduct. Any of these factors can have a huge influence on the amount of alimony a supporting spouse can be forced to pay (or not) to a dependent spouse.

These are just a few of the questions we get about separation and divorce at Warren Family Law. If you’re considering leaving your spouse and need to get started with the process, we pride ourselves on educating you from beginning to end. While many factors are predictable, sometimes things change during the process, especially when one or both spouses let their emotions take over. Regardless, we will be there for you, advising you in your best interests at every turn.