FAMILY LAW


The Oxford, NC family law attorneys at Dunlow & Wilkinson, P.A. provide quality legal representation in the following areas of family law.  Scroll down to view more detailed information on each area of law.  


ABSOLUTE DIVORCE


The most common ground for absolute divorce in North Carolina is a divorce based on one year of separation.  Once the parties have been separated from one another for a period of at least one year, with the intention on either part that the separation is to be permanent, then either party may file for the divorce.  The entry of an absolute divorce has the effect of cutting off certain claims, such as alimony, post-separation support and equitable distribution.  Therefore, it is imperative that those claims be raised prior to the entry of an absolute divorce, or they are forever barred.  Because the entry of an absolute divorce may have very serious and unexpected legal ramifications, it is highly recommended that you consult with an attorney experienced in domestic matters to advise you as to how you should proceed prior to commencing a divorce action or as soon as you are served with a divorce complaint.


At Dunlow & Wilkinson, P.A. we know that your case is unique, and we will give your case the individualized attention it deserves.  If you are seeking a divorce from your spouse, or your spouse is seeking a divorce from you, please contact us to schedule a consultation with one of our experienced domestic lawyers.


CHILD CUSTODY & VISITATION


When parents of minor children decide to separate, decisions relating to the children's care must be made.  In many instances, the parents are able to put aside their differences with one another and reach an amicable settlement on what is best for the children.  In some cases the parents are, for various reasons, unable to agree on what custodial arrangements are in the best interest of their children.


When the parents are unable to reach an agreement, either party may seek an order of the Court by filing an action for custody.  Once an action for custody has been filed, the Court obtains jurisdiction over the children and then has the authority to enter orders providing for the care, custody and control of the minor children on such terms and conditions as the Court finds to be in the best interests of the minor children.


In most instances, the parties will be required to participate in a custody mediation program prior to the Court conducting a hearing on the issue of custody and visitation.  In this program, the custody mediator, a neutral third party, will meet with the parents in order to facilitate settlement discussions on the issue of custody and visitation.  If the parties are able to reach a settlement agreement (often called a parenting agreement), the parties' agreement is reduced to writing and their agreement is eventually signed by a Judge and becomes an order of the Court.  If the parties are unable to reach an agreement through the mediation program, the parties are referred back to Court, where a hearing is held and the issues are decided by the Judge.


In order to fully protect your rights as a parent in Court, you will need the services of an experienced domestic attorney.  At Dunlow & Wilkinson, P.A., we have the skill and experience to assist you through this very difficult time of your life.  If you are involved in a custody or visitation dispute or think you may be about to be involved in a custody or visitation dispute, please contact us to schedule a consultation with one of our experienced family law attorneys.


CHILD SUPPORT


The right to visit with, and have access to, a natural child also comes with the responsibility to provide support for the child.  The issues of child support and visitation are not dependent upon one another.  A parent is obligated to support their child regardless of whether they have visitation with the child, and a parent is entitled to visit with, and have access to, their child regardless of whether they are paying support.


In North Carolina, child support is generally determined by application of the North Carolina Child Support Guidelines.  The Guidelines are intended to be straightforward and easy to apply.  However, application of the Guidelines to many situations, such as a self-employed obligor, requires a working knowledge of the case law as well as a firm understanding of tax law, to properly apply the Guidelines.


At Dunlow & Wilkinson, P.A.  our family law attorneys have years of experience representing parents that are seeking support as well as parents that are required to pay support.  We have the knowledge and experience to assist you in your child support matter to insure the North Carolina Child Support Guidelines are properly applied to your particular situation.  We are available to assist you with obtaining an initial child support order or a modification of the existing child support order.  If you are involved in a child support dispute, or if you just need more information about the child support process, please contact us to schedule a consultation with one of our experienced domestic law attorneys.  


DOMESTIC VIOLENCE RESTRAINING ORDERS


Under North Carolina law, "Domestic Violence" is defined as (1) attempting to cause bodily injury or intentionally causing bodily injury; or (2) placing the aggrieved party or a member of the aggrieved party's family or household in fear of imminent serious bodily injury or continued harassment, as defined by G.S. 14-227.3, that rises to such a level as to inflict substantial emotional distress; or (3) committing any act defined by G.S. 14-27.2 through G.S. 14-27.2"  N.C.G.S. 50B-1(a).  This definition covers a very broad spectrum of conduct perpetrated by an offender upon an aggrieved party.


The Domestic Violence Act (found in Chapter 50B of the North Carolina General Statutes) creates a procedure to allow a victim of domestic violence to seek immediate, as well as longer-term, relief in order to protect the victim from further acts of domestic violence.  This type of relief is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  The procedure for instituting an action to seek relief has been greatly simplified in order to encourage victims to seek the protection of the Court frm acts of domestic violence.  In addition, there are various non-profit organizations whose primary purpose is to assist victims of domestic violence.


While the simplified procedure for seeking relief and the availability of non-profit organizations to assist domestic violence victims are a great help for victims of domestic violence, they do not take the place of a knowledgeable domestic attorney to assist in the process.  Appearing in Court and prosecuting your domestic violence claim can be a daunting task for one who is not familiar with the Court system.


While the simplified procedures for seeking relief from acts of domestic violence is a great tool for combating domestic violence, it also makes it much easier for person to use the process to accomplish objectives for which the domestic violence laws were not intended.  Because having a domestic violence order entered against you may have many consequences that are not readily apparent, if you are charged with committing an act of domestic violence, you should immediately seek the advice and assistance of a knowledgeable domestic attorney to assist you.


At Dunlow & Wilkinson, P.A., we have understanding and caring attorneys available to assist you with prosecuting or defending a claim of domestic violence.  If you need an attorney to assist you with a domestic violence issue, please contact us to schedule a consultation with one of our experienced domestic lawyers.


EQUITABLE DISTRIBUTION


Equitable Distribution is the term commonly used to refer to the process of dividing marital property and debts among the parties after separation.  In its most basic formulation, equitable distribution involves a three-step process:  (1) identify all of the assets and debts; (2) classify the assets and debts (generally as marital, separate or mixed); and (3) divide the marital assets and debts in an equitable manner.  In many cases, however, this can be the most complicated and complex issue to resolve in a marital dissolution.


North Carolina adopted the equitable distribution law in 1981.  Since 1981, there have been a great number of cases decided by our appellate courts interpreting various provisions of the equitable distribution law.  In addition, there have been a number of statutory amendments clarifying and expanding the equitable distribution laws as well as the procedure for litigating an equitable distribution claim.  Effectively prosecuting or defending a claim for equitable distribution requires a thorough knowledge of not only the statutes, by the case law interpreting those statutes as well.  


At Dunlow & Wilkinson, P.A. we have experienced and caring attorneys that are able to assist you with your equitable distribution case.  If you are in need of assistance with a pending equitable distribution claim, or you would like more information about equitable distribution in North Carolina, please contact us to schedule a consultation with one of our experienced domestic lawyers. 


SEPARATION AND PROPERTY SETTLEMENT AGREEMENTS


Fortunately, not all separations and divorces require litigation.  In many cases, the parties are able to resolve their marital issues by agreement.  N.C.G>S. 52-10.1 specifically authorizes married couples to enter into valid and binding separation agreements, so long as the agreement is not against public policy, is in writing, and is signed by both parties before a certifying officer.


The issues routinely covered by such agreements include child custody, child support; visitation, equitable distribution, alimony and postseparation support.  Generally, once the parties have executed a valid and binding comprehensive separation and property settlement agreement, the only issue left for the court's attention is the issue of absolute divorce.


If you are going through a separation and divorce, or are contemplating a separation or divorce, we strongly recommend that you consult with an experienced domestic lawyer to discuss all of your options, including resolution by entering into a separation and property settlement agreement.  If you are ready to consult with an experienced domestic lawyer to discuss your situation, please contact us to schedule a consultation.  


PREMARITAL AGREEMENTS


North Carolina has adopted the Uniform Premarital Agreement Act that allows prospective spouses to enter into agreements respecting their property rights, estate provisions, alimony and other issues in anticipation of their marriage.  Although a premarital agreement is useful for many different reasons, it is commonly used to protect assets that were acquired by spouses prior to the anticipated marriage and to modify or waive the laws with respect to alimony and postseparation support.  


Many people feel ashamed to ask their intended spouse to sign a premarital agreement because it somehow insinuates that they are planning on the marriage failing or that they do not trust the intended spouse.  Negotiating a premarital agreement will necessitate a discussion among the parties as to their expectations about their duties and obligations during the marriage.  While this discussion may reveal serious differences about the parties' expectations, it is far better to discover and, if possible, reconcile these differences before the marriage is solemnized.


A premarital agreement may not be necessary or appropriate for all couples planning to marry.  But, with the national divorce rate averaging in excess of 50%, discussing a premarital agreement with an experienced domestic attorney just makes good sense.  Not only will the premarital agreement clarify each party's expectations prior to marriage, in the event the marriage does end in divorce, it could save the parties a great deal of money, time and emotional turmoil.


SPOUSAL SUPPORT AND ALIMONY


Alimony is defined as, "an order for payment for the support and maintenance of a spouse or former spouse . . ."  N.C.G.S. 50-16.1A(1).  A court may award alimony upon finding that one spouse is a "dependent spouse" (as defined by N.C.G.S. 50-16.1A(2)) and the other spouse is a "supporting spouse" (as defined by N.C.G.S. 50-16.1A(5)) and that an award of alimony is equitable, giving consideration to all relevant factors, including marital misconduct.  See N.C.G.S. 50-16.1A et. seq.


Postseparation support is an order for payment for the support and maintenance of a spouse or former spouse until a specified date or a hearing on the issue of alimony.  Postseparation support is sometimes referred to as temporary alimony or alimony pendente lite.  To receive postseparation support, a dependent spouse must show that their resources are not adequate to meet their reasonable needs and the supporting spouse has the ability to pay, and that given other enumerated factors, including marital fault by either party, an award is equitable.  See N.C.G.S. 50-16.2A.  


Unlike child support, there are no "guidelines" to apply in order to determine the amount of an alimony award.  The trial judge is vested with broad discretion in deciding whether to award alimony or postseparation support, and what amount should be awarded.  For that reason, when prosecuting, or defending, an alimony or postseparation support claim, it is important to provide the trial judge with all of the financial information necessary to allow the court to make an informed decision.  At Dunlow & Wilkinson, P.A. our domestic lawyers have years of experience in prosecuting and defending alimony claims.  If you believe you are entitled to an award of alimony, or an alimony claim has been made against you, please contact us to schedule a consultation with one of our experienced domestic lawyers.


ADOPTIONS


Adoption is the process by which the legal relationship of parent and child is created between two persons.  Any adult may adopt another individual, and any person may be adopted under the laws of the state of North Carolina.  See N.C.G.S. 48-1-103 and 48-1-104.  The procedure for adoption is by special proceeding - generally before the Clerk of Superior Court.


At Dunlow & Wilkinson, P.A. we have represented clients in adult adoptions, stepparent adoptions and family adoptions.  If you are interested in adoption, please contact us to schedule a consultation with one of our experienced family law attorneys.


NAME CHANGES


Many times a divorcing Wife may wish to resume her maiden name or a prior married name.  If so, the name change can be sought, and obtained, in the absolute divorce action.  Once a name change is granted by the Court, the individual must then notify the Department of Motor Vehicles, the Social Security Administration, and various other agencies, of her new name.  


The family law attorneys at Dunlow & Wilkinson, P.A. are here to help with your domestic issues.  Contact us today to learn how we can help.

106 Gilliam Street

Post Office Box 600

Oxford, NC  27565

(919) 725-9161 (phone)

(919) 725-9162 (fax)