If you are thinking about a divorce in North Carolina, you need to take certain steps to safeguard yourself, your children, and your money.
1. Mums the Word
Don’t tell anyone what you are doing and don’t leave a paper trail through
2. Lawyer Up
Seek the advice of a divorce attorney who practices NC family law before you do anything. Action (and/or inaction) can significantly affect the outcome of your divorce, alimony, child support, property division, and more. Don’t screw up by trying to do it yourself! There are many pitfalls and traps to handling your own divorce. Remember the old adage: “The lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client.”
a. Paperwork Traps
John* downloaded a form from the Web or got a form from the library and signed it with his wife, Sue*, only to spend more than twice the normal litigation costs trying to set aside the document, correct problems with it or find that it is enforceable to John’s detriment.
b. Decision Traps
Sue agrees to a property settlement without considering John’s pension because she did not know what property to consider as marital or failed to conduct discovery resulting in the loss of her share of the biggest asset they had together. John agrees to pay $800 per month in child support to Sue when the guidelines would have only required $600 per month. Sue leaves the kids with John for a week and then she takes them for a week. By the time the couple gets to court, Sue doesn’t like this arrangement but the Court finds this is the status quo and should be maintained pending a final hearing.
c. Information Traps
There are some things you really should not tell your spouse if you are getting divorced. Don’t talk about extramarital affairs. If asked under oath, you must be truthful. But at this stage, you need counsel on what to do and what not to do.
d. Other Traps
There are many other traps. Obviously, we can’t teach you three years of law school in one article! See our article on selecting a divorce attorney. Even if you can’t afford a full service law firm, you can consider unbundled services where the lawyer does part of the work (e.g., prepares pleadings, agreements) and the client acts as their own lawyer.
3. See a Counselor
Make sure that both your heart and your head want the divorce. If you have not tried marital counseling, try it. If your spouse will not go, go by yourself. We ask all of our clients if they are sure they have exhausted steps to save their marriage and truly desire a divorce. Despite this, many reconcile after the lawsuit is filed. Even if you are absolutely sure you want a divorce, talking to a counselor may help you (and your children) make a more healthy transition. If you have children, the counselor can give you good advice on how to tell the kids. Save yourself time and money and the potential damage done by the litigation process itself and talk to a counselor. If you need a referral, call Rice Law PLLC at
Make copies of everything you will not be able to put your hands on after you separate (e.g., children’s school records, medical records, pictures, tax returns, pay stubs, routine bills, credit card statements, wills, deeds, copy of titles to cars and boats) and store these copies off-site. If you take originals, you are responsible for safeguarding them and may have to return some or all to your spouse. The trunk of your car is not off-site! Buy a file cabinet and store it in a relative’s or friend’s garage, or rent a safety deposit box or storage unit.
5. Stay Put (for Now)
Stay put until you do #1 and #2—unless you are the victim of domestic violence. Your attorney will advise whether it is best for you to leave the marital residence. If your spouse is abusive, seek immediate help from a domestic violence shelter in your county; don’t follow the steps enumerated above—seek immediate help!
6. Safeguard Communications
While you are still living together, it is not a crime in the State of North Carolina for your spouse to snoop through all of your stuff. He/she may even put spyware on your computer to monitor your activities. Consider getting a P.O. Box to receive secure mail, open a new e-mail account (e.g., gmail) to receive secure e-mail, and check your e-mail account on a computer to which your spouse does not have access.
7. Safeguard Assets
Beginning right now, start taking out or making a list of things to take out of the house that are your purely personal possessions and cannot be replaced (e.g., class ring, heirlooms, children’s photographs). When you separate, you may need to freeze or close certain accounts. You may need your attorney to obtain an injunction preventing you and/or your spouse from disposing of certain assets. Talk to your attorney for instructions.
8. Open Bank Account
Go ahead and open a checking/savings account at a different bank from where you and your spouse currently bank. You will have to account to your husband/wife for the funds you deposit before date of separation but you will need a separate account.
9. Apartment/House Hunt
You may need a temporary place to stay. If you have children, the temporary home should be conducive to their needs (e.g., separate bedrooms). Investigate your options and the cost.
10. Get Support
You may need short term financial support from your family to help cover the costs of moving, attorney fees, and living costs during the transition. You may also want to consider attending a divorce support group or a cooperative parenting program to learn how children of divorce are affected and what you can do to help them cope.
Published August 27, 2009 | Authored by Mark Spencer Williams, Esq. and Managing Member, Rice Law, PLLC
*Author’s Note: This article is not intended to be a comprehensive analysis of the steps you should take when contemplating a divorce. “John” and “Sue” are fictional characters who do not represent real people but who do represent true situations. We strongly encourage you to consult with a licensed Divorce Attorney in the State of North Carolina before taking any action.