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What You Need to Know About Equitable Distribution in North Carolina

Equitable distribution of marital assets and debts is important to ensure that both spouses have their fair share of the property acquired during the marriage. It is rare that divorcing couples can approach property division conversations reasonably or impartially, which is why courts step in as objective third parties and distribute the property equitably.

When there are few marital assets or division is expected to be simple, North Carolina has a worksheet that can be used to determine an equitable distribution of assets[1]. This worksheet does not preclude the need for a hearing, but it can make the process of property division simpler once the spouses go before a judge.

Filing for Equitable Distribution

It is necessary to file for property division prior to the divorce being finalized. If a claim for equitable distribution is not filed in time, then both spouses lose the right to ask for this at any time in the future[2]. There is a specified window of opportunity to request the court to divide property. When this period ends without filing for equitable distribution, property will be divided in the following ways:

  • Assets and debts titled in your name will belong to you.
  • Assets and debts titled in both your name and your ex-spouse’s name will continue to belong to both of you despite the divorce being finalized[3].

Why Timing Matters

The complexity and importance of timing in equitable distribution filings can be seen clearly in the case of Bradford v. Bradford [4] out of Yancey County. One day after the parties’ separation, Husband filed for and was awarded sole custody of their child. Shortly after, Wife filed a counterclaim, but over the course of the next year she voluntarily dismissed all of her claims, including for equitable distribution.

Husband filed a separate lawsuit for absolute divorce in late 2019, and Wife filed another motion for equitable distribution in early 2020 for both the initial filing and the 2019 divorce filing. The court finalized the divorce a mere two hours after Wife’s equitable distribution filing, at which point Husband filed motions to dismiss Wife’s equitable distribution motions. The trial court granted Husband’s motions, and Wife appealed.

The Court of Appeals determined that the dismissal of Wife’s motion for equitable distribution for the 2018 matter should be upheld. However, because she filed her other motion prior to the finalization of an absolute divorce, the lower court’s decision to grant the motion to dismiss was reversed. The lawsuit was remanded to the trial court to determine equitable distribution.

Property division is a sensitive topic for many divorcing spouses due to the sentimental connection and monetary value of their property. If you have a question about your marital property or are looking for helpful guidance on the divorce process in North Carolina, call Woodruff Family Law Group for a consultation.

[1] North Carolina Equitable Distribution Worksheet.

[2] North Carolina Judicial Branch.

[3] Id.

[4] Bradford v. Bradford, 864 S.E.2d 783, 2021 NCCOA 448 (N.C. Ct. App. 2021)