No one wants to think that when they get married or begin a family, they will need to worry about any legal issues surrounding that decision. Prenuptial agreements, divorce, and certainly child custody are the last things from most newlyweds’ minds. Unfortunately, these are issues that thousands of individuals must face each year, despite the fact that the divorce rate is on the decline in the United States. To be sure, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that the marriage rate is 6.8 per 1,000 total population, and the divorce rate is down to 3.6 per 1,000 population (with 44 states, and the District of Columbia, reporting). In North Carolina, the rate of divorce was slightly lower than the rest of the country for the year 2014 – 3.4 per 1,000 population. That number was also down for other years – the rate of divorce in North Carolina was 3.4, 3.7, 3.7, 3.8, 3.8, 4.0, and 5.1 for the years 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, and 1990, respectively.
But divorce is not the only family law issue that individuals may have to cope with at some point in their lives. Rather, all of the below – which will be discussed in more detail later in this guide – may have to be dealt with:
- Alienation of affection. Alienation is a very unique type of civil action. Alienation of affection allows the injured spouse to sue a third party for damages brought about by a paramour or even an in-law.
- Alimony/post-separation support. When one spouse is financially dependent on the other, and those two parties separate, under certain circumstances, the financially dependent spouse has the right to seek financial support in order to maintain their standard of living.
- Child Custody. Child custody – and losing custody of their child(ren) – is most parents’ worst fear. Unfortunately, when two people get divorced or separate, child custody is an issue that they must come to terms with and come to an agreement on.
- Joint Custody. Sometimes, the best thing that parents can do for both themselves and their child or children is to share custody in an arrangement that is known as joint custody. Joint custody allows both parents to maintain parental and custodial rights.
- Child Support. North Carolina courts require that both parents of a child contribute to that child’s wellbeing and care. The non-custodial parent is typically ordered by a court to pay child support.
- Criminal Conversation. Similar to alienation of affection cases, criminal conversation refers to a tort that arises in most cases when a married party has sexual relations with someone other than his or her spouse. A criminal conversation lawsuit requires proof of sexual intercourse that occurred outside of the marriage.
- Domestic Violence. Domestic violence refers to the act by one member of a household or a family against another member of a household or family that causes physical harm, psychological harm, sexual harm, or imminent threat of either. Current rates of domestic violence in the United States and North Carolina are extremely hard to accurately report as many cases of domestic violence go unreported.
- Equitable Distribution. Equitable distribution refers to the manner in which property is distributed in North Carolina when a couple divorces. An equitable distribution does not always mean an equal one. In some cases, a court may find that one party receiving significantly more assets is equitable.
- Legal Separation. A legal separation is not a divorce, nor does choosing to separate mean that a couple has to get a divorce. Couples who wish to separate rather than divorce may execute a Separation Agreement which will outline common divorce issues, such as alimony, child support, child custody, and property division.
- Mediation. Before going to court, many married persons choose private mediation. Private mediation is a way of working out issues in divorce where both couples can express what they want, and the conversation is mediated by a neutral third party. Private mediation can save time and money on expensive court costs. Other court-ordered mediation may be required in child custody and equitable distribution cases.
- Prenuptial Agreements. Those who are in love and planning to get married think that they do not need prenuptial agreements, either because they and their soon-to-be-spouse will never separate, or because they believe that they have few assets and therefore, a prenuptial agreement is not necessary. Regardless of your financial situation, or the health of your relationships, having a prenuptial agreement is a smart idea since no one can predict the future.
The Benefits of Working with a Family Law Attorney
The issues that fall into the category of family law discussed above can be rife with legal complexities, timelines, language, and requirements. For a person who is untrained in family law, these legalities can be a headache. More than frustrating though, a lack of understanding can also be detrimental to one’s future. For example, not understanding your right to child support – or how to request child support – may result in the lack of a child support order or an incorrect payment amount. This is one of the reasons that an attorney may prove to be very valuable – an attorney can guide you through all you need to know about the law. Further, an attorney can be beneficial for:
- Helping you to uncover hidden assets. In a divorce, your spouse may try to hide assets in order to prevent these assets for being up for division. Your attorney can advise you regarding how to uncover hidden assets.
- Gathering evidence to support your case. Evidence can be just as vital in family court as it is in other types of court. Whether you are trying to prove that you deserve custody of your child(ren), or need an evaluation of assets. From eyewitness testimony to recruiting experts, an attorney knows how to gather the right evidence.
- Serving as a voice of reason. Family law issues are extremely emotional. When emotions are running high, it can be difficult to keep your head on straight about things, especially those things that are related to your case. Your attorneys can serve as a voice of reason, and keep you informed about important legal opportunities and maneuvers, as well as provide you with tips regarding how to behave around your spouse, your children, and in court.
- Recommending non-legal resources. While an attorney is obviously a fantastic legal resource, an attorney can also recommend myriad non-legal resources as well. For example, your attorney may be able to help you find a trusted financial adviser, domestic violence organization, divorce support group, and more.
- Advocating for you every step of the way. Going through a family matter that requires legal help may leave you feeling as though you have nowhere to turn and you are alone. No matter how bad things may seem, your attorney will be advocating for you. When you hire an attorney, you know that you are not alone.
- Handling legal documents. Many of the reasons that people seek legal help from an attorney in the first place is because they do not understand, or need help composing, a legal contract or arrangement. An attorney will guide you through all legal paperwork, like how to file for a divorce or prepare a prenuptial agreement, and can advise you in regards to how to make smart legal decisions.
Things to Look For in a Family Law Attorney
When choosing a family law attorney, it is important that you choose someone whom you trust, who is experienced, and whom you believe is invested in your case. Before hiring an attorney, it is always good to schedule an initial consultation, which will give you the opportunity to ask the attorney questions and learn more about the legal process. Some important questions to ask include:
- How much do you charge? It is important to learn up front how much the family law attorney charges. While you may think that you cannot afford an attorney, keep in mind that your attorney may end up saving you money, hassle, or both in the long wrong. Our firm handles family law cases in many combinations : flat fees, hourly fees, and in some cases (depending on the type of case) contingency fees.
- What is your experience handling cases like mine? It is important that the attorney whom you hire has experience dealing with the specific type of issue that you are presenting. During a divorce, for example, it would be unwise to hire an attorney who specializes in bankruptcy law and has not handled divorce cases.
- What should I expect throughout the process? Ask your attorney what your role will be throughout the process, as well as what you can expect along the way. While knowing exactly how long a family law matter will take to resolve can be tough, your attorney should be able to provide some insight as to a rough timeline.
Family Law Attorneys Serving You
There are many issues that are hard to understand when getting a divorce, facing domestic abuse, trying to establish paternity and get a child support order, and more. At The Law Offices of J. Scott Smith, PLLC, our experienced North Carolina family law attorneys are ready to serve you. Contact us today for consultation using our online form.