Our practice is focused primarily on issues of family law following or anticipating a client’s separation from his or her spouse. Our mission is to educate our clients on the law and then get to know each client so that we can provide specific advice given his or her circumstances. Everyone’s family law case is unique, and we are hands-on attorneys whose goal is to ensure that each client receives the guidance he or she needs. Although we encourage settlement through negotiation and/or mediation, there are circumstances that warrant litigation, and we have over 30 years of trial experience in handling complex alimony, child custody, child support, equitable distribution and contempt matters. Keith Black and Barbara Morgenstern also mediate family law cases for parties and attorneys with a high rate of settlement success. For those parties who are unable to settle their family law cases in mediation, Barbara Morgenstern is certified by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers to arbitrate those cases for a private, and frequently more expedient and affordable, procedure to resolve their disputes. In addition to traditional family law cases, we also handle adoptions and name changes.
North Carolina is a “no-fault” divorce state, so to obtain a divorce, there are only 3 requirements: 1) one of the parties must have been a citizen and resident of North Carolina for at least six (6) months prior to filing for divorce, 2) the parties must have been physically separated for 12 months with at least one of the parties intending for the separation to be permanent, and 3) the parties cannot have reconciled and resumed the marital relationship during that 12 months.
Child Custody, Visitation and Child Support
The law as it pertains to the custody of minor children is a challenging and ever-evolving area of the law. North Carolina judges are required to determine “what is in the best interest of the child(ren),” and to enter an order that establishes both legal and physical custody of the child. Legal custody is the constitutionally-protected right of a parent to make important decisions for his or her child(ren), and physical custody is the right to have time with the child(ren). As each family unit is unique, there is no road map to follow, so it is imperative to hire an attorney who understands what issues are important to the judges in the county where the case will be heard and who can determine which facts will lead the judge to what is in the best interest of the child(ren). Our attorneys have successfully tried multiple custody cases and, just as importantly, have been able to counsel clients on ways to resolve cases short of trial that saves our client(s) the economic, emotional and psychological costs of contested litigation. Child Support is calculated in accordance with the North Carolina Child Support Guidelines based on the parties’ gross income, childcare expenses, health insurance expenses and custody schedule.
North Carolina law provides that all property, whether real, personal, tangible and intangible, acquired with marital funds or efforts of either party from the date of the parties’ marriage to the date the parties physically separate shall be divided equally unless the court is persuaded that it would not be equitable to divide it equally. Full disclosure of the parties’ assets is critical to a fair division of property and the attorney and/or paralegal’s role in gathering all financial information is essential to ensuring that a complete division of property is accomplished. An important part of equitable distribution is the division of retirement benefits, and our attorneys have prepared hundreds of the complex orders required to properly divide these accounts as well as IRAs, stocks and other investment accounts.
Premarital, Postmarital and Separation Agreements
A large part of our practice is devoted to negotiating and/or mediating premarital, postmarital and separation agreements. Different laws apply to each agreement and strict requirements govern all three types of agreements. Premarital agreements may be prepared prior to a parties’ marriage and can address property division, support and death benefits. Postmarital agreements are drafted while the parties are still married and wish to address their marital obligations to one another. Separation agreements are prepared following the parties’ separation from one another and can address custody, support, property division, death rights and other rights and obligations related to the separation. It is imperative that these documents are drafted with precision and pursuant to the laws of North Carolina, and our attorneys have extensive experience in drafting such agreements.
Post Separation Support (PSS) and Alimony
In North Carolina, in order to receive either Post Separation Support (PSS) or Alimony, there must be a Dependent Spouse and a Supporting Spouse in the marriage. In simple terms one spouse must be dependent upon the other spouse for support (money) to “maintain the standard of living” that has occurred during the marriage. Post Separation Support is often referred to as temporary alimony and is for the economic purpose of supporting the dependent spouse during the initial separation of the parties so that each party will have sufficient funds to maintain his or her household while all of the issues in a family law case are being resolved. Alimony is the more permanent component of support between spouses and is based upon the Dependent Spouse’s needs and the Supporting Spouse’s ability to pay, as is PSS, but at this stage fault such as adultery or abuse is factored in by the Court. It is rare for Alimony to be permanently ordered by a court, but generally, if a spouse is entitled to alimony, the longer the marriage, the longer period of time alimony will be paid. Our attorneys have tried cases seeking and defending claims for support and alimony and are cognizant of the financial, emotional and physical costs of this type of litigation on the client and the children of the parties. Settlement of this claim is the preferred approach but we are prepared to litigate the matter if a fair agreement cannot be reached.