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Frequently Asked Questions About Divorce

Do you have questions about the divorce process, alimony, child support or mediation? Read the list below to see if your question has already been answered, or contact Benton Family Law today for personalized guidance.

What happens if we file a lawsuit?

The first step in a lawsuit is the preparation and filing of a summons and complaint. The summons is the court document on which a deputy sheriff notes that a defendant has been given a copy of the complaint. The complaint is the court document in which the plaintiff tells the defendant why the plaintiff is bringing the lawsuit.

After the summons and complaint are filed, the other spouse must receive proper notice. To avoid needless embarrassment to your spouse, we can permit him or her to accept service. If your spouse will not agree to accept service, we will simply send the sheriff. Do not let your spouse worry you by saying that he or she will not sign an acceptance. If we are unable to locate your spouse, we can obtain sufficient service by publication in a newspaper.

What are court costs?

Court costs can vary dramatically based upon which action is being taken. Our firm can provide you a list of current court costs. Some types of court actions, such as filing depositions or requesting property appraisals, can be expensive. We cannot extend you credit for items such as these — they must be paid for at the time of service. We are happy to provide you with a preliminary cost estimate from service providers; and you approve all actions we take before we take them. When possible, we can ask the court to assess the costs to your spouse. However, this is discretionary and not guaranteed.

How are attorney fees determined?

We provide divorce-related services to you based upon standard hourly rates set by our firm.

Billable time will be charged in increments of one-tenth hours. “Billable hours” the time we spend working directly on your case, but can be affected by other factors adopted by the North Carolina State Bar as a part of the Code of Professional Responsibility.

The exception to this billing procedure is the contingent-fee contract on the equitable distribution cause of action. In this instance, In some cases, it may be in the best interests of you and our firm for the fee charged to be calculated based on a percentage of the property value of the assets you receive from the equitable distribution portion of your divorce settlement.

It is impossible to determine the precise fee until that case is completed. A typical domestic case requires many separate services, including conferences, discovery of assets, liabilities, income and expenses, settlement negotiations with your spouse’s attorney, preparation and review of a proposed property settlement and support agreements, preparation and filing of pleadings or review of pleadings filed by your spouse, preparation or review of court orders and attendance at various court hearings.

Can my spouse be made to pay my attorney fees?

If a trial is necessary, one spouse may be ordered to pay some portion of the other spouse’s attorney fees. You are responsible for paying our fees, but we will give you full credit for any payments made by your spouse pursuant to a court order, and we will pursue any possible claim for attorney fees against your spouse. The court can award attorney fees for custody, child support and alimony claims but not for the absolute divorce and equitable distribution.

What if we reconcile?

Even after we begin our court action, you may change your mind and decide to try to work things out. If you decide to drop this action, you will be responsible for all fees as set out in your fee contract.

How do I resume my maiden name?

The female spouse may wish to resume her maiden name as part of the divorce decree. If you want that service, let us know before we prepare the absolute divorce complaint.

Can I date? What about my spouse?

You are married until the divorce is granted. Post-separation pre-divorce dating can be used by your spouse against you and may cause you to lose some of your legal rights particularly those relating to alimony. Please tell me about all such actions on your part so that I can be prepared to respond to these circumstances. On the other hand, if your spouse might be engaging in any such conduct, you should advise us immediately so that we can discuss obtaining proof through a private detective, etc. Under no circumstances should you discuss any such steps we might take with your spouse or do anything else which might alert your spouse to this.

What is confidentiality?

To represent you successfully in a divorce case, we must understand all relevant aspects of your case. This includes potentially damaging or embarrassing information about you or your family. All information you disclose to our attorney or our office staff is confidential. None of it will be disclosed without your approval.

What should I do about the security of documents, cash accounts and credit accounts?

To protect your access to marital assets such as those named in the question, we advise copying documents or moving them to a secure location that your spouse cannot find. For credit accounts, notify all lenders or card authorities that you are not responsible for future charges made by your spouse. Withdraw some or all of the funds you have in jointly owned cash accounts and transfer them to new or separate accounts that are only in your name. Your spouse may take these actions before you do if you do not act quickly.

Property rights will be addressed at equitable distribution hearings, but those may not happen for up to 18 months after a divorce is filed. Until then, the person who acts to retain possession of marital assets typically does retain them.

How does the firm update me on current information?

I will make every effort to keep you informed. You will receive copies of correspondence and documents prepared or received by us. If you learn of some letters or documents that I have not sent you, please tell me so that I may correct that oversight immediately. Please feel free to contact the office regularly and speak with the staff to ensure that you are updated.

Things you may have heard about divorce

Many people have gone through a divorce. Maybe even some of your friends. Even if they have not personally gone through a divorce, they may know someone who has. Regardless, any number of people in your life may attempt to offer support by way of giving you advice about divorce. However, you should accept this advice with caution, as the advice is often unfounded and hearsay. Your divorce case and the marriage that came before it, issues involving your children and property, and other related matters are specific to you. They are unique to your life, situation and considerations.

All aspects of the divorce can be highly emotionally-charged, including spousal support (alimony) issues and situations where children are involved (custody and support). It is best when parents work together when children are involved and not use the children to get back at the other parent. The advice you should be taking, if any, is the advice of your legal counsel as well as any other professionals that may need to become involved, such as a psychologist. Our firm can assist in finding one for you and/or your children at any time.

We hold your case confidential and do not discuss it with others. We highly suggest you do the same. Keeping the details of the divorce private can help protect the work we are doing to help you and protect your best interests, as well as those of your children. You do not want the other party in the divorce being told of things by your friends.

If you have questions or need to talk about your divorce, reach out to us. We can help.

Do I need a new will? What about life insurance, bank account and retirement beneficiaries?

North Carolina’s Probate Code invalidates certain portions of wills that were made prior to a divorce. Following the signing of a separation agreement or divorce, you probably will need a new will. If you wish to pursue this issue, please discuss it with me at an appropriate time. Further, you will need to change the beneficiaries on all bank accounts, retirement accounts and life insurance. We will discuss this at various times throughout your representation. If you have a question at any time about this, please ask.

What is the firm’s telephone policy?

Our aim as a firm is to stay focused when preparing for a case or interacting with a client in a conference. Our attorneys do not answer our phones when we are doing this work. This policy protects you when it is your case and we are preparing documents or a pleading for you. We also do not answer our phone when we are in court, out of the office or talking to another client on the phone. Our goal is to return all phone calls within 24 hours.

However, our attorneys are able to return calls efficiently by asking that clients provide staff members with the best phone numbers to reach them at during both daytime and evening hours. Let our staff know if your call relates to an emergency or urgent matter and provide details so they can assist you, or we can return your call as soon as possible.

If our office is unable to return your phone call within 24 hours, we will attempt to reach you as soon as reasonably possible. If our office has been closed, we prioritize return calls based on the nature and urgency of the call. You are welcome to call us back if our attempts to return your call have been unsuccessful.

Be aware that every phone call that you make is billed as if we had a conference, so use your time wisely.

Is there a waiting period?

After service of the summons and complaint, it may take several weeks or months to obtain a hearing on child custody, child support and post-separation support. In the divorce action, if no answer is filed, the matter is ready for hearing approximately 40 days after service of the summons and complaint on the spouse. Remember that you cannot file for absolute divorce until one year after the date of separation.

Call Us If You Have More Divorce Questions

Benton Family Law is happy to answer all questions you may have about the dissolution of your marriage. Call us at our office in Goldsboro at 919-891-8737 or send us an email through our online intake form.