When divorce hearings begin, one of the first things that judges must do is identify what assets and debts are marital property. North Carolina courts do not divide all of the property that each spouse owns and instead divide only marital property.
Courts will distribute property that couples acquire during the course of the marriage. Here are some key aspects of how they make these types of rulings.
The principles of equitable distribution
Resolving what property each person gets is generally not as simple as making an even split. Statutory law addressing marital property division requires judges to apply the doctrine of equitable distribution. The objective of this approach to dividing property is to arrive at a determination that will be fair and equitable to both spouses.
Factors that judges consider
Judges and magistrates apply the same guidelines in each divorce case that they hear, but they try to analyze couples’ unique circumstances. They may evaluate the length of a marriage, how each spouse has invested financially towards the marriage and the property that each person owns separately. It may also be relevant to consider spouses’ relative earning capacity.
Some couples have prenuptial agreements stipulating what marital assets each spouse will receive if a marriage dissolves. A judge may determine whether a couple’s specific agreement is valid and enforceable.
Ultimately, couples who are beginning the divorce process should attempt to arrive at a mutual agreement about how they will divide property. An outcome that both parties agree to may be preferable to letting someone else decide what happens.