If you wonder what “estranged wife” means, you are not alone. This term is often used in the news and legal proceedings, but what does it actually mean? According to Miriam Webster, an estranged wife is a woman who no longer lives with her husband. However, there is more than one way to be estranged.

You may feel like an estranged spouse if you or your spouse has checked out of your marriage emotionally or physically. Let’s look at what estrangement means for your marital rights and your right to move on with your life.

What is an Estranged Family Member? Distant or Hostile Relationships

Whether you live together or live separately in North Carolina, when you are not legally divorced, you are still married. Your spouse is legally your family member and possesses the same legal rights as a beloved wife or husband.

Estranged couples often don’t realize that their legal status as husband and wife does not change because of a “legal” separation. A “legally” separated relationship in North Carolina does not change your marital status.

Separation in North Carolina is still considered married. In fact, any adulterous behavior during a separation period can be used against you in a court of law when it comes to spousal support payments in the future.

For example, suppose your wife moves out, and you live separately and apart for 5 years. You have a long-time girlfriend who lives with you. But your wife has never dated. If there comes a time when she decides to divorce you and seek alimony or post-separation support, she may receive a higher reward because of your infidelity.

Just because a spouse is no longer living with you doesn’t mean you have no legal status together. Let’s look at other ways an estranged wife or estranged husband can affect your legal rights to move forward with your life.

Estranged Individuals Have All the Rights of Married Individuals

Whether you’ve been separated for 10 years or you haven’t slept in the same bed for 15, a spouse is still a spouse until an absolute divorce goes through.

For example, as an estranged wife, perhaps you are the primary caretaker for the children that you had with your husband. Maybe he moved out and lives with another woman now. He may even be a deadbeat dad who doesn’t give you any child support or even see you or the kids. He may have moved on in every way.

However, you are losing out on your marital rights. Your children are losing out on their rights also.

Perhaps you haven’t done anything about it because you feel overwhelmed with day-to-day life. But the problem is that, as their father, he owes them legal support if you divorce him. He may owe YOU legal support also. And it’s not fair to you or your children to let him abandon you all.

Either way, bringing in an experienced separation and divorce lawyer can ensure consideration of your marital rights! Next, we will see what marital rights you may have in a divorce proceeding.

Separation and Divorce in North Carolina

Even if you no longer speak to one another and live completely separate lives, estranged spouses in North Carolina are legally married. Some states recognize legal separation as a time when your rights may change. However, in the eyes of NC, you are married until your absolute divorce goes through!

Before a divorce in North Carolina, a judge will sign off on your divorce agreement to settle your issues.

You can work with your spouse to find an agreement together about what is fair, called an uncontested divorce. Or you can battle it out in court in a contested divorce. Either way, your divorce attorney can help you negotiate and find solutions.

Some of the issues you need to work out with your spouse before a judge will sign off on your divorce include:

Equitable Distribution of Assets

Equitable distribution involves all marital assets, from real estate to retirement accounts, and includes:

  • Real property
  • Property acquired during the marriage
  • Separate property
  • Marital property
  • Retirement accounts
  • Bank accounts

If you cannot agree on equitable distribution of property and debt with your spouse, one of you must file an Equitable Distribution action before the final divorce judgment.

The process of equitable distribution can be complex, so an attorney specializing in separation and divorce can protect your rights as you go through the process of dividing assets equally.

Child Custody

In North Carolina, there are different ways to handle child custody. Sometimes you can come to an agreement with your spouse. If the judge decides for you, they will look at many factors, including:

  • Parental living arrangements
  • Parental ability to care for the child
  • Child’s relationship with each parent
  • Factors affecting the welfare of the child

Within North Carolina, you can file a custody case with the county court where the child or parent lives. You must file a complaint to ask a court for a child custody order. You can ensure a correct complaint filing by working with an attorney.

In uncontested divorce cases, you can work with the other parent or interested parties to make custody agreements. Filing an uncontested divorce can save money and time as you work with one attorney to draw up your custody agreements.

Child Support

Both parents are financially responsible for the upbringing of their children until they reach legal adulthood.

Child support is a payment from one parent to the other for the support of their child or children. The state of North Carolina calculates child support by using a formula taking into account both parents’ incomes and the number of overnights each child spends with each parent.

In general, the non-custodial parent is responsible for paying child support. The custodial parent is the parent with whom the child lives most of the time.

A family law divorce attorney can help you understand how child support works and what you can expect in your specific situation.

Alimony Considerations

Spousal support can be a key factor in determining the outcome of your divorce proceedings. Depending on the length of your marriage, income levels, and adulterous behavior, you may receive more or less spousal support.

Filing for an “absolute divorce” in North Carolina is a no-fault process. However, spousal support is not, and a judge may determine how much spousal support and how long a spouse will receive it based on marital misconduct.

You may receive post-separation support for a specific period of time while waiting for a divorce. After a divorce, you may receive alimony indefinitely (or until you remarry).

The difference between alimony vs post-separation support is that alimony generally lasts longer and occurs after divorce, while post-separation support only lasts until the final divorce decree.

However, if you don’t fight for alimony before the divorce is final, you lose the right to ask for it!

That’s why working with a divorce attorney matters. An experienced divorce attorney can help you receive the spousal support you need and understand your rights during the process!

Who Can Receive Post-Separation Support Or Alimony Payments?

A dependent spouse can ask for temporary spousal support during the separation period. Some couples may work out together how much spousal support one spouse will pay. Other couples disagree about financial assistance from a paying spouse.

However, if you’re the spouse seeking alimony, it’s possible to find financial support from a higher-earning spouse. A judge may order your ex to pay spousal support if you are in need.

It’s also possible to receive spousal support when your spouse cheats on you, even if you are self-supporting.

A judge may award alimony from the at-fault spouse to a receiving spouse in a divorce proceeding. In certain circumstances, the judge may award spousal maintenance that begins during the separation period.

If your new financial situation without your former spouse will leave you in financial need, state laws allow your ex to provide support to meet your financial needs.

Family law attorneys specializing in divorce and alimony can help you seek financial support from your ex in the form of post-separation support during your separation period and alimony after your final divorce decree.

How is Spousal Support Calculated?

Spousal support payments provide for your needs and may cover your reasonable expenses, including living expenses and other crucial needs during a separation period or after a divorce.

If your resources are insufficient to meet your reasonable needs and your spouse can pay, a court can determine that you deserve spousal support based on financial hardship. If the court chooses to establish spousal support in the form of post-separation support or alimony, they will issue a court order.

When considering spousal support, such as post-separation support and alimony, the court also looks at many factors, including:

  • Earning capacity: earnings, dividends, benefits such as medical insurance, retirement funds, other insurance, or Social Security and homemaker contributions
  • Financial liabilities
  • Age and physical, mental, and emotional factors affecting each spouse
  • Length of the marriage, standard of living during marriage, and needs of each spouse now
  • Education of each spouse and contributions to education, training, or earnings of the other spouse
  • Financial impact of child custody
  • Property brought to the marriage
  • Federal, State, and local tax ramifications of any alimony award
  • Marital misconduct

If you struggle to make ends meet or think you may deserve spousal support, contact us at Plekan Law. We can help you calculate alimony, handle divorce proceedings, understand local court rules, and plan a strategy for court hearings.

Estate Planning and Estrangement

As an estranged wife or husband, it’s also crucial to consider who you’ve named on documents that give inheritance to your spouse. Many assets pass outside of a last will and testament, including:

  • Life insurance policies
  • Retirement accounts
  • Jointly owned bank accounts
  • Real estate owned with right of survivorship

If you don’t want your spouse to inherit your assets, it’s crucial to go through and name new beneficiaries! Also, work with an estate planning attorney to draw up a new will.

In addition, look at how others will make medical decisions for you if you become incapacitated. Work with your attorney to create a power of attorney and name a next of kin or close friend to make these crucial decisions.

No one knows what the future holds, and an estranged spouse may not be the best person to decide what’s best for you if you face physical trauma.

Our Experienced Separation and Divorce Attorneys Can Help

Whether you’re an estranged wife or husband, it’s crucial to work through your marital rights and understand how to handle the situation you find yourself in legally. At Plekan Law, we can explain how your unique issues may affect your current and future legal rights.

Contact us today to discuss your situation with our experienced family law divorce attorneys and plan a strategy for your divorce and separation. We understand the difficulties of the marital dissolution process and can help you protect your rights and find a fair solution for your best outcome!