Researching divorce and divorce lawyers is often an emotional but important first step. Considering your legal options is a good idea, especially if you’re not entirely certain you even if want to try separation or possibly end the marriage.
There are a lot of things to consider in addition to the relationship itself. Distribution of your marital estate can be extraordinarily complicated.
You might not realize the entire value of individual and marital assets until looking at things holistically, considering the totality of circumstances.
If you add children and the potential for protracted litigation or a custody dispute, there is a lot to absorb.
It’s OK to be a bit unsure and unsettled. This is a big step. It’s also OK to sit down with us, ask questions, and decide to do nothing at all – Bill Powers, Divorce Attorney Charlotte NC
What’s the first step in separation and divorce?
That’s a great question and a potential source for problems. Under the NC divorce laws, except for very narrow, limited exceptions, you must be legally separated for no less than 1 year before filing for divorce in North Carolina.
As such, legal separation comes first. Indeed, that’s what attorneys refer to as a term of art. The rules for legal separation are specific and not subject to negotiation.
One of the more common errors and misunderstandings people have is failing to fully comprehend what it means to be legally separated. It most certainly is not living in separate rooms, under the same roof, or simply proceeding as if you are no longer married.
That may be the law in other states. It is not the law in North Carolina. In fact, the one-year clock can be reset by renewed cohabitation, even if that turns out to be only for a short period of time.
What is a Legal Separation in NC?
Legal separation begins the day spouses maintain two separate residences, with the intent to continue living separate and apart from each other on a permanent basis. It must be an actual, physical separation with two separate, distinct residences. See N.C.G.S. § 50-6.
Article One of Chapter 50 (the NC Divorce and Alimony statute) mentions “husband” and “wife” when referring to legal separation. Given the adoption and recognition of same-sex marriages in North Carolina, the parties to a divorce, whatever form that may take, must intend to permanently live apart.
Thereafter, either the plaintiff or the defendant in an action for divorce in NC must have resided in North Carolina for no less than 6 months. There are also other legal requirements regarding jurisdiction and proper venue that must be fulfilled prior to filing a lawsuit.
Both parties do not have to consent to the divorce. That only takes one spouse in North Carolina. The law demands proof of legal separation for no less than one year and cannot be waived by mutual consent of the respective parties.
What is Reconciliation?
Resumption of marital relations after separation may later be determined to be a formal reconciliation. Under the law, that legal issue must be resolved pursuant to N.C.G.S. 52-10.2. Resumption of the marital relationship requires a voluntary renewal of a “husband and wife relationship.”
Occasional or “isolated” incidents of sexual intercourse may not constitute a legal reconciliation or otherwise cause problems with the mandatory 1 year separation period. In reviewing whether the parties intend to reconcile, the family court Judge considers the totality of the circumstances, making appropriate Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law.
Obviously, the General Assembly will need to update the law, recognizing the legal rights (and responsibilities) afforded to same sex marriages in North Carolina.
Bill Powers – Divorce Attorney Charlotte NC
There is a fair amount of discretion and subjective interpretation given to Judges under the divorce laws. While that may lead to some level of confusion at times, it also recognizes the many different types of relationships in North Carolina.
Clearly, the Pine State has room to improve, especially as it pertains to updating and recognizing same sex marital relationships in the various and sundry laws and martial statutes.
Fortunately, the substantial discretion that is given to Judges in settling legal issues also provides the opportunity for compassion and empathy in resolving your legal dispute, recognizing individual circumstances and societal changes.
Our family court judges in Mecklenburg County are some of the best in the state. They are dedicated, hard-working, and committed to resolving marital disputes in a fair and equitable manner – Bill Powers, Divorce Attorney
And with that said, it’s important you take the time to carefully consider your legal options. The “first step,” as we’ve called it, may involve sitting down with an attorney, asking questions, and providing information about your unique circumstances.
No two marriages are exactly alike. What’s important to you and your family, especially concerning life-altering changes to the structure of your interpersonal relationships, deserves careful, measured consideration.
The North Carolina Court of Appeals ruled this week on a longstanding Charlotte child custody and contempt of court legal issue, described as, “an exceptionally contentious and prolonged custody battle” between a father and mother in Mecklenburg County Family Court. Litigation began in January 2007 involving the custody of two children, one of whom has since “aged out” and has been the subject of various Show Cause Orders, Motions to Show Cause, Charlotte child custody and Contempt of Court proceedings since he was 11 years old.
Another daughter, who is now 17, is the subject of the present appeal in the Charlotte Family Court matter entitled Grissom v. Cohen. To download a copy of the NC Court of Appeals opinion as published on October 2, 2018, see: Charlotte Contempt of Court Child Custody 2018
The extent and nature of the litigation in the matter is remarkable, involving four different Charlotte Family Court Judges, 600+ findings of fact in 2 Custody Orders and at least two full child custody trials in Mecklenburg County. While truly extraordinary in scope and duration, it does serve as an example of the lengths to which parents will fight for child custody and visitation in Charlotte – Bill Powers, Divorce Lawyer Charlotte NC
Contempt of Court and Charlotte Child Custody Issues
In the latest round of litigation and appeals from a ruling by the Honorable Matthew Osman in Charlotte Family Court, the Plaintiff in the appeal (the mother Ms. Grissom) complained that the trial judge made a mistake by, “Failing to hold Father in civil contempt” and in effect, ending or eliminating the mother’s primary custody of a child.
Specifically, the attorney for the mother, a divorce lawyer Charlotte NC, alleged the district court judge:
- Applied the wrong Burden of Proof, confusing the differences and standards of proof, and who had the burden of proof, between
- Civil Contempt of Court – Greater Weight of the Evidence
- Criminal Contempt in Charlotte NC – Beyond a Reasonable Doubt
- Failed to acknowledge or enforce an alleged “Forced Visitation Order”
- Refused to find the father in Contempt of Court
The Court of Appeals disagreed on several legal issues, specifically writing the Plaintiff, “Makes the bold and legally impossible request that this Court make the factual determination” that the Defendant in the case (the father Mr. Cohen) violated the Modified Custody Order, that the father “willfully violated” the Custody Order, demanding the NC COA reset the case for trial for civil contempt.
One would be remiss in failing to note who wrote the Grissom v. Cohen opinion for the Court of Appeals, the Hon. Donna Stroud.
To say her Honor is dedicated to precision, especially in drafting Orders in civil court involving family law cases, and the associated legal standards applied at the appellate level to NC Family Law matters, is an understatement. The Grissom case, as it will likely come to be known among divorce lawyers in Charlotte and other family court jurisdictions, discusses a wide range of legal issues involving contempt of court, the burdens of proof for Show Cause Orders, the roles of family law judges, and the realities of child custody disputes.
Judge Stroud recently spoke to a Charlotte divorce lawyer seminar (continuing legal education CLE), sponsored by the Mecklenburg County Family Law section, titled, “Writing Good Orders – What Judges Want Family Law Lawyers To Know About Drafting Orders.” The Grissom v. Cohen ruling reminds family law attorneys there are important differences and distinctions between criminal contempt vs civil contempt.
Some of the more “big picture” legal issues in Grissom focus on:
- Family Court Judges in Charlotte and their duties- the “Trial Judge” has the responsibility to be the Finder of Fact. In divorce and family law disputes, the district court judge hears testimony at trials and during motions, listens to the evidence, weighs the evidence, resolving differences and conflicts in the evidence presented between the parties, and thereafter makes Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law.
- The Appellate Courts in NC review, in family law cases, things like the appropriate Standard of Proof, Conclusions of Law, and whether the Conclusions, as a matter of law, are supported by the Findings of Fact. Generally, the Court of Appeals rules on whether legal issues or matters of contention, regarding the application of the NC Family Laws (including child custody, child support, contempt of court, etc.), were proper. Put simply, appellate courts review the application of the NC Family Laws and, when necessary, interpret the N.C.G.S. and other constitutional considerations. The Family Court Judge answers questions like, “Who gets the kids?” and “How much is child support in North Carolina?”
- The appellate courts also address technical differences between the Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, and the roles of the Courts. The Court of Appeals in family law cases does not review, on a de novo (“of new” or “for anew” in Latin) basis, contempt orders. They do not “re-try” the case or change legal rulings of a family law judge, even if they may have personally ruled another way. Appellate courts rule on the law, giving wide discretion to rulings by family court judges regarding factual issues, absent an abuse of discretion. Generally speaking, family court judges interpret evidence and decide factual disputes. Appellate judges look at the legal rulings, making certain the NC Family Laws are followed.
The legal standard of review in Charlotte family law cases involving contempt of court trials is whether there was competent evidence to support the Findings of Fact by the trial judge and further whether the Conclusions of Law by the Family Court judge were supported by the Findings of Fact – Bill Powers, Charlotte Divorce Lawyer
A key takeaway from the ruling is that unchallenged Findings of Fact are presumed accurate and otherwise supported by the competent evidence. That means they cannot be challenged on appeal, as they are described by family law attorneys as, “Binding on Appeal.” That is not to say the Appellate Courts of North Carolina cannot review rulings by Family Court Judges. Legal conclusions or what family law lawyers call, “Conclusions of Law” may be reviewed de novo by the NC Court of Appeals.
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