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The Top Five Reasons a Divorce Matters in North Carolina

By Amy A. Edwards

In North Carolina, a spouse can file a claim for divorce only a separation of at least twelve months. Besides the ability to allow someone to remarry, a divorce is important for a number of reasons. This article isn’t legal advice, and it does not cover all of the reasons. But it highlights a few examples of why someone who is served with a complaint absolutely needs to contact a lawyer immediately.

Reason #1 – Marital Property

Married people who separate can file a claim for equitable distribution, asking the court to divide marital property equally (instead of just relying on which name is on the title or deed). Our state creates a deadline for filing those claims, and the clock starts ticking when a divorce complaint is filed. Failure to properly file for marital property division within the correct time period means it is permanently lost.

Reason #2 – Health Insurance

Family plans that cover both spouses and any children change the moment a divorce decree is entered. As of that moment, a spouse is no longer “related” for purposes of a family plan because they are no longer a family member. Children of the person who provides health insurance remain on a family plan after a divorce.

Reason #3 – Estate Rights

Inheritance rights between spouses are completely different from those of non-spouses. This is a very complicated area of the law that can be related to whether a claim for marital property. Examples of potential rights upon the death of a spouse include an allowance of money, the right to a share of the assets if there is no will, and the right to contests a will. Designation as a spouse or former spouse can involve Social Security benefits, military benefits and other survivor’s benefits.

Reason #4 – Liens Against the House

Married people are sometimes protected from creditors if only one of them created a debt in his or her sole name. For example, the innocent spouse who did not sign a credit card application is usually, but not always, protected from money judgments that would otherwise become a lien against the marital residence. The moment the innocent spouse becomes an ex-spouse, this can trigger a lien against the property even if the debt (such as credit card debt) is not in his or her name and he or she never signed the application for the loan or credit card.

Reason #5 – Alimony

Like a claim for equitable distribution of marital property, there is a critical deadline for filing claims for temporary and permanent alimony once a divorce complaint is filed. A spouse who qualifies for alimony must immediately protect those rights. Failure to properly do so will usually mean the spouse cannot ask for financial assistance once the right to file alimony expires, even if he or she is unemployed or underemployed. Alimony is paid for the support of the spouse, and it is unrelated to child support, which is paid only for the support of children.

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