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Property division and the Pitt-Jolie divorce


North Carolina residents who are following the divorce of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt have likely heard that Jolie is asking for full physical custody of their children. Pitt may end up paying child support if she does get sole custody, but if he fights for joint custody and the children live with each of them half the time, then neither will owe child support to the other. The two have been together since 2004 and married since 2014, and they have six children.

In California, where Jolie has filed for divorce, marital property is supposed to be split equally. However, many people believe that the two have a prenuptial agreement. Since 2004, they have earned $555 million between the two of them. Since they married, Pitt has earned about $76.5 million and Jolie has earned around $41 million.

The two also purchased homes in New Orleans and France before they got married. These will not be considered marital property and may need to be dealt with separately.

Although North Carolina is not a community property state, property division is still a major element of divorce, and there are several ways that a couple can go about it. For example, a couple does not automatically have to turn to litigation and have a judge decide how the property is divided. They can work with their lawyers to negotiate an agreement that they are both happy with. This may involve splitting all of the shared property 50/50, one of them buying out the other, or one taking certain assets, such as real estate, while the other takes certain accounts or other investments. The couple may be happier with this more flexible approach.

Domestic violence and child custody issues

North Carolina parents who are getting a divorce and who are also dealing with domestic violence might want to consider some myths that surround abuse and child custody. For example, a separation does not always result in a child being safe from domestic violence.

One expert says she has often seen a parent try to use the child as a pawn to manipulate the other parent. She also feels that very young children should not have overnight visits with the noncustodial parent because it disturbs their sense of stability and security.

One myth about child custody is that the parent who is not abusive will automatically get full custody. This is not the case with all victims. One problem is that the victim may suffer from psychological problems or may be unable to obtain steady, well-paying employment. The courts, siding with the best interests of the child, might award custody to the other parent on the grounds that the abused parent appears to be unfit to care for the child.

Parents who are concerned about issues such as abuse, another parent with alcohol or drug problems or similar scenarios might want to discuss these issues with their attorney. Since these are probably not issues that can be worked out through negotiation or mediation, it might be necessary to go straight to litigation and present a judge with the reasons the other parent should not have custody. Some courts believe that in most cases, a child benefits from time with both parents, so the parent seeking custody might want to work out a strategy to use in court in hopes of getting a satisfying outcome.


Dividing retirement savings in a divorce

The National Center for Family & Marriage Research reports that twice as many adults over the age of 50 got divorced in 2014 compared to 1990, and the divorce rate for adults over 65 tripled. A survey also found that pensions and retirement accounts are among the most contested for this generation of divorcing spouses. Baby boomers in North Carolina who are ending their marriages will certainly want to protect those assets.

Retirement benefits accumulated during a marriage will in most cases be split during property division unless the couple otherwise agrees. The funds that go to into a retirement account are intended to run a single household. When a couple divorces, the funds are divided by the court because they have to run two households. Due to this, it is important for couples to review or modify the beneficiary designations when their marriages end to confirm that their wishes are reflected.

Divorcing spouses should also check the current and future values of their retirement accounts. The government taxes individuals when they withdraw from retirement accounts such as traditional IRAs, pensions and 401(k)s. However, contributions to Roth IRAs and Roth 401(k)s come out of income that has already been taxed, making withdrawals tax-free. This makes it more financially sensible to divide traditional retirement accounts according to their after-tax values.

Additionally, divorcing spouses should avoid trading retirement benefits for the family home or other assets. A home, for instance, is usually expensive to maintain. Retirement benefits, however, increase in value, so keeping them and giving up the family home is typically a better financial decision for divorcing spouses in their 50s and 60s.

The laws regarding property division in a divorce might be too complex for some older couples to understand. Their respective family law attorneys may answer all of their questions and walk them through the entire process.

Electronic entertainment an uncertain factor in family law

It is not unusual for divorced parents in North Carolina to have divergent ideas about the best way to raise their children. In this modern era of constant electronic stimulation, that can mean the two parents have different conceptions of how much internet time is appropriate and how many video games a child should be allowed play. There is an absence of compelling scientific evidence proving that this new media is either harmful or helpful, so one parent has very little ability to compel the other parent to comply with their ideas about appropriate electronic entertainment usage.

The recent craze for Pokemon Go can be an instructive example. Many children spend hours a day playing the new game, and there is as yet no clear consensus as to whether this is positive or negative for child development.

The main standards that the court should use to evaluate the behavior of the parent are the safety and the best interests of the child. Unless the child’s use of video games is so overwhelmingly negative that it represents a clear and present danger to their well-being, the law is unlikely to get involved in regulating their use.

Although there may be wide latitude for discussion and negotiation, after the parenting plan has been set down by the court, it will have the force of law. Both parents must comply with it and the court must be consulted before changing any part of it. An attorney can be helpful to those who wish to revisit or modify a parenting plan. They may be able to advocate for a preferred outcome for their client and to represent them in any negotiations with other parties or the court.

Source: The Huffington Post, “Pokémon Go…ne! Can Divorced Co-Parents Protect Kids from Excessive Screen Time?”, Bari Weinberger, Aug. 24, 2016

1 Figuring out the settlement agreement

A North Carolina divorce is seldom straightforward whether both parties want a simple resolution or not, as there are often several options for how to proceed. The problem is that each person might favor different ideas.

In a hypothetical situation, a woman wants a divorce after a number of years of marriage. She has a larger salary and wants to use the couple’s savings to buy a new place while helping her husband stay in their home by paying the mortgage. The husband wants to use the savings to pay off the mortgage and is worried about having enough money if he loses his job before full retirement.

As the savings account is marital property, neither party may be able to claim the entirety of it. However, the husband might get a larger part of the savings or more assets as he makes less money. The wife could receive some money for a new place while the husband pays for the mortgage on his own, or the couple could pay off the mortgage and agree to the amount the wife receives when selling the house whether the value increases or decreases.

After a divorce, each person must cover living expenses on one income. This often makes money tighter, but individuals do need to consider building a savings account up after a divorce. If an emergency or something unexpected happens, it is recommended to have six months worth of living expenses saved up.

It is possible to have a less contentious divorce when each person is willing to communicate honestly and work together to end a marriage, and negotiations handled by their respective attorneys might allow both parties to reach a mutually agreeable agreement. If one spouse makes less than the other, this party could be entitled to alimony for a short or extended period of time after a divorce.

The role of the primary caretaker in child custody decisions


If North Carolina parents who are going through a divorce cannot reach an agreement about child custody outside of court, a family court judge must rule on the matter. When a judge makes a ruling about primary physical custody, the judge typically favors the parent that is the child’s primary caretaker. To determine who has served as the primary caretaker, a judge will look at a number of different factors.

In family law, the primary caretaker is the parent who has taken care of a child’s most basic needs. Feeding, bathing, grooming and clothing of a child are all considered responsibilities of a primary caretaker. A primary caretaker may also make healthcare arrangements for the child, schedule extracurricular activities, attend conferences at the child’s school and teach the child reading and writing skills.

The primary caretaker is usually preferred in child custody decisions so that the child’s bond won’t be interrupted. Psychological research has found that this emotional bond is vital for a child’s successful development. The primary caretaker could be a mother or father, and in some cases, the mother and father share primary caretaking responsibilities equally.

When it is not absolutely clear which parent is a child’s primary caretaker, a divorcing parent may want to make sure that the court has all of the information that it will need to make a sound child custody decision. An attorney can often assist a client in putting together as much evidence as possible to support a request for joint physical custody. This could include testimony from healthcare providers and teachers, for example.

Claiming ex-spousal benefits on Social Security


North Carolina residents who are at or near the age of retirement may be aware of the way in which their marital status affects their possible Social Security payments. There are circumstances under which the benefits derived from the other spouse’s Social Security earnings history are greater than they would be for the spouse directly. For example, if the other spouse earned much more during the term of the marriage, then the spousal benefits could exceed what they would have earned alone. This may also be true after a divorce.

A marriage that lasted longer than 10 years might render the ex-spouse eligible to receive spousal benefits after the divorce. The claimant must be able to prove that the marriage lasted this amount of time by producing both a marriage decree and a divorce certificate. No claim may be made for spousal benefits until people have been divorced for at least two years.

Under most circumstances, a remarriage will invalidate the ex-spouse’s attempts to gain these benefits. However, if the ex-spouse has passed on and the survivor has remarried after the age of 60, then a claim can be valid.

A divorce can often bring severe financial consequences for one or both parties. This can be especially true when the couple is older and one of the spouses passed up career opportunities to stay at home and take care of household responsibilities. As such, a family law attorney can often be of assistance in negotiating an agreement that provides the client with a measure of financial stability and peace of mind.

Lessons from high-profile divorces

North Carolina fans of actor Johnny Depp may have followed news of his divorce from Amber Heard. Depp is also selling off some of the paintings from his art collection, but insiders say it is probably not related to the divorce. Depp and Heard married in California, a community property state, and the marriage only lasted 15 months. Depp has been collecting the paintings since the 1990s, so it is unlikely they would be considered marital property. However, there are circumstances in which a divorce would prompt just such a sale although it is important that a person who is doing so does not attempt to sell the assets for less than they are worth to reduce the marital estate’s value.

Some people may try to avoid litigation because they want to avoid a lengthy divorce battle or would like to avoid the publicity. Divorce involves having to share financial information, and a high-profile couple might prefer to keep that information private. For example, a former head of General Electric found himself investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission after the details of his retirement package worth more than $2.5 million annually that came out during the proceedings appeared in the media.

On the other hand, some couples cannot afford to divorce. The cost of renting separate homes or paying health insurance may be too steep, making them decide after all to stay together.

A person’s financial situation can have a profound effect on how certain divorce legal issues such as property division are approached. A family law attorney can often take that into account when negotiating a comprehensive settlement agreement.

$10 million settlement possible for Amber Heard in Depp divorce

North Carolina residents might be interested in learning that Amber Heard, the actress who is separating from Johnny Depp, could stand to gain as much as $10 million from her divorce settlement. If the couple does not have a prenuptial agreement, she will be entitled to receive a big chunk of the money he made during their marriage, including a portion of the profits he earned from “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales.”

Heard has filed a temporary restraining order against Depp citing domestic violence. If she decides to pursue a civil case over the charges, she may be awarded more money.

Heard is asking for $50,000 a month in spousal support. Experts state it is unlikely she will be successful in getting spousal support for very long because the marriage only lasted 15 months. If she does get spousal support, she will likely only receive it for six months to a year.

When a high-profile couple gets divorced, they often have to deal with the media reporting on everything that happens in their case. In order to avoid negative publicity, couples such as Depp and Heard often try to negotiate agreements instead of waging a very public war in court. Before getting married, people with high assets may want to talk with a family law attorney about the wisdom of drafting prenuptial agreements. Doing so may protect their financial interests as well as their privacy if the marriage later goes south. An attorney might be able to help draft agreements that can protect their clients and keep cases from very public litigation.

Source: The Wrap, “Amber Heard could get $10 million in Johnny Depp divorce, expert says,” Tim Kenneally, June 1, 2016

Avoiding common child custody and visitation pitfalls

Divorcing parents often hope to avoid protracted and bitter legal disputes and get through the process amicably and quickly, but these hopes are sometimes dashed when it comes time to discuss child custody and visitation. These disputes can also place the children involved in a very difficult position, and even North Carolina parents that have worked out detailed parenting arrangements may find it difficult to avoid confrontations and conflict when putting their carefully crafted plans into practice.

The desire to keep their legal bills manageable may lead spouses to put their differences aside during divorce negotiations, but lingering resentments often resurface once the paperwork has been completed and life returns to normal. Divorced parents who do not see eye to eye sometimes try to punish one another by refusing to abide by the terms of visitation and custody arrangements, which can lead to a negative spiral of accusations and lawsuits.

They may be able to avoid this kind of pitfall by remembering that conflicts with their former spouses are likely to have a negative impact on their children. Parents who are able to do this may develop more productive and amicable relationships with their former spouses even when they parted in acrimonious circumstances, but those who are unable to look beyond the past may face legal actions or even criminal sanctions.

Experienced family law attorneys know how contentious custody disputes can be, and they may take a diplomatic and delicate approach when these matters are being negotiated. Attorneys could also remind their clients that entering into legally binding parenting agreements should be taken seriously and that the sanctions for violating them could be severe.