If you are just starting to think about getting divorced, and you live North Carolina, then you are pretty much out of luck to get divorced in 2013, or 2014 either for that matter. The process to get divorced in North Carolina is a long one, and starts with getting separated from your spouse. Once you have separated, you must remain separated for at least one full year. After you have been separated for one year, then you must file the divorce complaint in the court system, and it can take another 60-90 days after that for the divorce to become final.
Sounds exhausting, doesn’t it? It is a long and difficult process to be sure. But that doesn’t mean it is too early for you to start thinking about the implications of an end of the year divorce – if and when that is a possibility for you.
I bring this up today because today is the last day of the year, in my county anyway, that you can go to court to have a judge sign your divorce. I’m headed to court this morning and I anticipate a crowded house with everyone trying to get their divorce in by the end of the year.
The question is, why get it finished by the end of the year? Or why not? Here are my thoughts on the issue…
4 issues to think about when deciding whether to finalize your divorce before the end of 2013
- To start 2014 fresh. When talking to clients that are trying to finish up their divorce in December, this seems to be the biggest reason that people want to get it done now. They just want to start the new year fresh. Perhaps they want to be able to tell people “I got divorced last year” – I’m not really sure. I do know that there is something psychological going on with all of us that makes us want to kick off new habits in a new year, so it would make sense that this is another of them.
- Tax reasons. Your tax filing status is determined by whether you are married or not at 11:59 p.m. on December 31st. If you have reasons that you want to file a joint tax return in 2013, then perhaps you want to wait until January to finalize your divorce. I do have some clients that are waiting. If you have questions about this, you will need to speak with a tax advisor in your area.
- Health Insurance. Health insurance is probably one of the biggest reasons that my clients stay married, long after they have been separated for one year. In many cases, my clients (or their spouse) have fantastic health insurance. So long as you are married, you may keep your spouse on your employer sponsored health insurance. However, after the divorce becomes final, the employer is no longer legally allowed to keep the ex-spouse on the employee’s health plan. The ex can, however, remain on the plan for up to 36 months by paying the health insurance premium on their own through COBRA.
- You haven’t reached a settlement yet. If you are still working with your spouse to reach a resolution of your case, you may want to think twice about finalizing your divorce in North Carolina. Once you finalize your divorce, both you and your spouse lose the right to go to court and have the court decide how to divide up your marital property or who is going to pay alimony. If you are looking to keep your case out of the court system, a sure-fire way to sink that ship is to file for divorce – thus inviting counter-claims from your spouse. In addition, finalizing the divorce before you have settled all the specifics of your financial settlement could deprive you of negotiating options – such as keeping your spouse on your health plan for a couple of months while he/she is looking for new coverage. If you finalize the divorce, this is no longer an option. Also, finalizing the divorce prematurely could lead to emotional outbursts from your spouse if they were not yet ready for the divorce. Their anger and resentment at you for finalizing the divorce could come out in their settlement negotiations.