Ask Carolyn …

Straight Talk for the Dancing Divorce Attorney

Carolyn Woodruff

Ask Carolyn…

Dear Readers,

This week Ask Carolyn answers two male readers’ questions regarding alimony and ex-wife harassment. These questions will also be addressed in future versions of Ask Carolyn also because of the complexity of the questions. Stay tuned.

Dear Carolyn,

After over a year of frustration and $12,000, I terminated my attorney.  My wife moved out of the marital residence 19 months ago, while I was out of state on a business trip. There was no cheating on either side.

I was able to get the divorce and a settlement on the equitable distribution (ED) through the courts.  Currently, I am still living in the home (I don’t want to).   The house will be under water by approximately $15,000 when it sells.  The ED calls for a 50/50 split on the home, whether there is a profit or loss, and it stipulates no alimony request can be presented to the courts until the home is sold.

The large amount of debt was split 50/50 in the ED, but the ex’s share of it is coming out of her half of my retirement account from work.

The ex’s attorneys are still bucking for a monthly alimony of almost $2,000, and her attorney fees are now more than $40k and are being paid by her parents.  She is employed and makes approximately $40,000 per year.  With the revolving debt, house payments and my very basic living expenses, my take home barely covers the debt, house and living expenses.

Will the courts grant her alimony and attorney’s fees?  Can I declare bankruptcy if they do and get it removed?

Carolyn Answers …

Alimony is often a heart-wrenching topic under North Carolina law, and I feel your pain and disgust. The alimony law is full of “wiggle room” and uncertainty. This wiggle room in my opinion increases the cost of litigating alimony in this state. There are no. Many states have alimony guidelines, but North Carolina does not. It has been over two decades since the legislature did any major reform of NCGS Section 50-16.1 et. seq. (which contains nine lengthy, cumbersome statutory provisions with many subparts). Regarding amount and duration of alimony alone, there are 16 subparts. (NCGS Section 50-16.3A).

If you are going to represent yourself, you need to get a copy of NCGS Section 50-16.1 and all the subparts that follow. Look particularly at the Amount and Duration section (50-13.3A), as several parts help you. I’ll list them for you.

Factor 1. Misconduct. She moved out, and if her moving out was unjustified, then that is abandonment and a factor for the court to consider.

Factor 2. Relative earnings. You do not say how much you make, and an initial inquiry is always whether you are the supporting spouse and whether she is the dependent spouse.

Factor 4. I suggest you argue that all the help her family is giving her is unearned income, i.e., paying the legal fees to keep the war going.

Factor 5. You do not say how long the marriage is, but the duration of the marriage is a factor.

Factor 10. This is your big one: “relative debt service.” You need to be totally prepared to show the judge all the debt you are paying, particularly if it is required by the ED order of the court. There may not be money left over for alimony, at least not now. I am suspicious that one of the reasons for the delay in the alimony is that the ex-wife’s attorney wants the houses to be sold, so that is not a cash flow issue for you at the trial. You will want to make sure that going into the alimony trial that you have secured for yourself adequate housing so that the court can evaluate what your ongoing needs are. Don’t rent a dump, or you could be stuck there.

Here’s one way you might try to cut a deal and get out of the gloom. Take your salary and deduct the ongoing debt you must pay, giving you a “net available” to you after debt. Then take your net available and deduct the $40,000 she makes. How much is left? Send me those numbers, and I’ll attempt to help you think through this. Also, how long were you married? Write me again ASAP. Also, give me facts regarding the retirement division. I’ll answer the bankruptcy and give some time on the retirement in the next Ask Carolyn in two weeks that may be helpful.

Dear Carolyn,

Can something be done about one side disparaging another in a divorce matter?

The plaintiff (ex-wife) actively speaks ill of the defendant ex-husband. They have been separated for 19 months and are divorced. She even left the marital bedroom five months before leaving the marital home, so for two years now, and is still acting childish and immature.

The ex-wife has lied to the point that the defendant’s adult kids no longer speak to him. He does not partake in the drama of the plaintiff nor adult children, but the truth has yet to be told.  The lies stem from the plaintiff trying on every level to obtain alimony.

The plaintiff sends the defendant nasty emails regarding their case and has called cursing and being disrespectful of the defendant on the voicemail, blaming him for things that are her personal responsibility. The plaintiff has had their adult children break into the former family home, although they no longer live there, invading the defendant’s privacy and personal space, causing further issues between the adult children and the defendant.  There have been negative posts on Facebook.

The plaintiff has vowed to ruin the defendant; actually stating prior to separation, “You owe me.”

Carolyn Answers …

Dude, your case is totally out of freaking control. You’ve got to get away from these crazies. I don’t know when certain incidents happened, but there is certainly a pattern of harassment here. If there is another incident of breaking and entering your home, I would consider a 50B domestic violence action or a 50C no contact action. If you do this, please list all of the incidents that have happened historically, showing the pattern. Use as many pages as needed.

Here are some steps I would take, some of which are practical self-help.

  1. Block all their emails.
  2. Block or change your phone number. If you get voicemails, save them, as you might need them in court someday.
  3. The break-in is troublesome. As you describe it, it appears that a crime was committed. Change your keys and locks and install a camera system if possible.
  4. Facebook is a terrible problem, and Facebook won’t do much except in extreme incidents. Make sure you have privacy settings on your own social media in place.
  5. I would write a business letter to your ex with a copy to the ex’s lawyer stating the following points:

I do not want emails or phone calls from my ex, and I have blocked her number.

Neither my ex, nor my adult children, or welcome to my residence unless I specifically ask in writing.

Cease and desist posts concerning me on this case from Facebook.

Any further violations of my privacy and rights to an existence without interference will be met with all legal remedies available to me.

Send your questions on family law and divorce mattter to askcarolyn@rhinotimes.com, or P.O. Box 9023, Greensboro 27427 or at Ask Carolyn’s comment section at rhinotimes.com. Please do not put identifying information in your questions. “Like” Ask Carolyn on Facebook and follow on Instagram and Twitter at Ask_Carolyn.

Note that answers are intended to provide general legal information and are not specific legal advice for your situation. The column also uses hypothetical questions. A subtle fact in your unique case may determine the legal advice you need. Also, please note that you are not creating an attorney-client relationship with Carolyn J. Woodruff by writing or having your question answered by Ask Carolyn.

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