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The Clock is Ticking: Don’t Miss a Deadline

Dana M. Horlick, Attorney, Woodruff Family Law Group

Whenever you become a party to a lawsuit, whether you are the Plaintiff or the Defendant, there are deadlines imposed by the Court, by statute, and by the Rules of Civil Procedure that are important to follow. There are deadlines whether you are in Guilford County, North Carolina or Fulton County, Georgia. Missing such a deadline could severely impact your rights.

For a real life celebrity example, let’s look at Phaedra Parks – star of Real Housewives of Atlanta – and her jailed husband, Apollo Nida. The couple were married in 2009 and separated in 2014.

On December 1st of this year, Apollo Nida filed a Complaint against Phaedra Parks, seeking a divorce, along with joint legal custody of the minor children and an equitable division of all of the personal property, assets, and marital debts.

However, back in November of this year, the parties were granted a divorce, after Nida failed to respond to Parks’ divorce petition. Parks filed for divorce in March of 2015 and subsequently was divorced in November. The judge also awarded Parks custody of the parties’ two children. Nida will have visitation rights once he completes the eight-year prison sentence he is currently serving for bank fraud and identity theft.

Now consider if this situation happened here in Guilford County. Once the parties remain separated for one year, either of the parties can file for divorce, which Parks does. Once the Plaintiff has effectuated service of the divorce complaint on the Defendant, the Defendant has 30 days to respond. The 30-day deadline is according to the North Carolina Rules of Civil Procedure. To extend this deadline, the Defendant can file a Motion for Extension of Time and receive an extension, as long as the deadline has not already passed. Now in the case of Parks and Nida, Nida never filed an Answer and never sought an extension of time.

Once the time for the Defendant to respond has expired, the Plaintiff can calendar his or her claim. Typically, in a divorce case, this would involve filing a Motion for Summary Judgment and placing that Motion on the court calendar to be heard. Getting the divorce judgment is a fairly straightforward process unless the parties are contesting the date of separation or a similar fact. In this case, a judge granted Parks the divorce from Nida, along with custody of the parties’ two children.

The issue comes when Nida files a Complaint seeking equitable distribution of the parties’ marital and divisible assets and debts. According to N.C.G.S. 50-11(e), a spouse must assert his or her right to an equitable distribution before the divorce judgment. Otherwise, the absolute divorce destroys the claim to equitable distribution. There is one caveat in North Carolina, but that involves service by publication, which was not the case in our celebrity couple.

Based on the North Carolina statute, to preserve his equitable distribution claim, Nida would have had to file an Answer that included a counterclaim for equitable distribution, or he could have filed a new action with a claim for equitable distribution. Either of these options would have had to occur before the divorce.

In this case, the divorce occurred in November and Nida did not file a claim for equitable distribution until December. Thus, the divorce destroyed Nida’s claim for equitable distribution and that claim cannot go forward.

As you can see, deadlines are important as they can affect your rights and your ability to make certain claims. Nida lost his right to an equitable distribution of the parties’ divisible and marital assets and debts by missing a deadline. To preserve your rights, consult an experienced family law attorney who can advise you and assist with keeping abreast of any and all relevant deadlines.