In North Carolina, divorcing couples have a right to “equitable distribution” of property. Equitable distribution refers to a court-ordered division of property between spouses that is considered “fair”—which often, but not always, amounts to a 50/50 split. It is important to understand your rights to marital property in a divorce and the actions you must take in order to receive what you’re entitled to.

Requirements

To be eligible for equitable distribution, all of the following must be true:

  • Your case is an absolute divorce. In North Carolina, an absolute divorce is granted under either of the below conditions:
    • You and your spouse have been separated for at least one year. (This is the most common reason cited for divorce by far.)
    • At least one spouse has incurable insanity.
  • You and your spouse do not have an existing property settlement. (In order to make you ineligible for equitable distribution, such a property settlement must be written and notarized.)
  • You or your spouse submits a request for equitable distribution before the divorce is granted.

The importance of filing for equitable distribution

This final requirement is particularly important to understand. You or your spouse must specifically request equitable distribution before your divorce becomes final. This request can be made in:

  • The original petition for divorce (also called the “complaint”),
  • The answer to the petition or
  • A separate motion filed with the court after the divorce proceedings are underway.

If you fail to file a request for equitable distribution in time, you forever lose your claim to a fair divide of your marital property. Instead, the court will divide your property based on titles and other evidence of ownership.

Say, for example, your spouse owns a luxury car valued at $40,000. Under equal distribution, you might be entitled to receive property equal to approximately half the value of the car. However, if you miss your deadline to claim equal distribution, you’re not entitled to any part of this property.

It’s critical to understand your rights pertaining to equitable distribution. Adhering to the above deadline can make or break your financial future following a divorce.