Divorce, Explained

As a family law attorney, often, my clients schedule an appointment for an initial consultation after they have made the decision to get divorced. Because divorce involves consequences that most people haven’t considered, I wish I could speak to more people before they make the decision.

Think about it: You might imagine the challenges and frustrations of your life if you stay in your marriage, but what does the future look like during and after a divorce? How often will you see your children? How much financial support will you need to pay (or receive)? How will you divide your house, cars, retirement funds, other investments, and debts?

During the divorce process, typically, there are 5 claims to be addressed: (1) child custody; (2) child support; (3) spousal support (e.g., postseparation support and alimony); (4) equitable distribution (i.e., distribution of marital assets and debts); and then (5) divorce.

  1. Child Custody

There are two types of custody: legal custody and physical custody.

  • Legal custody generally refers to the right and responsibility to make decisions with important and long-term implications for a child’s best interest and welfare.
  • Physical custody generally means the right to have the child in your care.


  1. Child Support

The North Carolina Child Support Guidelines are intended to provide adequate awards of child support that are equitable to the child and both of the child’s parents. North Carolina’s child support guidelines are based on the “income shares” model. This model is based on the concept that child support is a shared parental obligation and that a child should receive the same proportion of parental income he or she would have received if the child’s parents lived together.


  1. Spousal Support (Postseparation Support and Alimony)

In North Carolina there are two types of spousal support: postseparation support and alimony.

  • Postseparation support means spousal support to be paid until the earlier of any of the following: (a) the date specified in the order for postseparation support; (b) the entry of an order awarding or denying alimony; (c) the dismissal of the alimony claim; (d) the entry of a judgment of absolute divorce if no claim of alimony is pending at the time of entry of the judgment of absolute divorce; or (e) termination of postseparation support as provided in G.S. 50-16.9(b).
  • Alimony means an order for payment for the support and maintenance of a spouse or former spouse, periodically or in a lump sum, for a specified or for an indefinite term.


  1. Equitable Distribution

Equitable distribution is commonly referred to as property division. In North Carolina, upon a request by either spouse, the court may equally divide the net value of the marital property, unless after considering a number of factors the court determines that an equal division is not equitable (i.e., fair). In North Carolina, there are three kinds of property for purposes of equitable distribution: marital, divisible, and separate property.


  1. Absolute Divorce

In North Carolina, before you can ask the court for a divorce, you and your spouse must live separate and apart for one year. Clients are often surprised to learn sleeping in separate beds or in different parts of the house is not enough—you and your spouse must reside in different residences. There is also no way to waive the one-year requirement even by agreement of the parties. During the one year of separation, you and your spouse may not voluntarily resume your marital relationship; however, isolated incidents of sexual intercourse may not constitute the resumption of marital relations.

While these 5 claims are the most common in North Carolina, every case is unique and nuanced. If you are contemplating a divorce, you should seek the guidance of an experienced family law attorney who can help you identify the claims that are important to your case. At Dozier Miller Law Group, we have ten attorneys in our family law practice with decades of experience. Contact us today to schedule an initial consultation with an attorney that understands your unique needs and can help you resolve your claims.

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