Get Answers to Your Most Commonly Asked Questions About Injury, Criminal, Divorce and Civil Law in North Carolina.

Questions about an important legal matter involving divorce or custody issue?  We answer many of your questions here.  This is not intended to be a substitute for legal advice.  Call to schedule a private consultation about your particular circumstances.

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  • I live in Hampstead, North Carolina. My husband and I are separating. What is a separation agreement and will we need one?

    In some situations, a separation agreement can be a great opportunity to protect your legal interests and save money.  A separation agreement is a written and signed agreement between the parties resolving issues such as division of marital property, custody and spousal support. When the parties do eventually file for divorce, the separation agreement can be incorporated into the divorce decree, wrapping up all of the issues at one time without the expense of further litigation.  Call (910) 341-7570 to find out if a separation agreement is best for you.

    You can speak to an experienced, knowledgeable and caring divorce attorney about your separation in Wilmington, NC, Wrightsville Beach, Carolina Beach, Leland, Hampstead, Landfall, New Hanover County, Pender County, or Brunswick County.

  • Do I need to file for legal separation?

    Many of my clients share the same concern when it comes to separation and divorce.  They have been living separately from their spouse for some time, but have not filed for “legal separation”. They are concerned that this will prevent or delay their divorce.

    North Carolina law requires the parties to have lived separate and apart for a year.  There is no need to file for legal separation.  If you have been living apart for more than a year, then you are legally eligible to obtain a divorce.

    As soon as you decide that you and your spouse should separate, there are some things you may want to do to protect your rights, assets and relationships.  It is possible to create a separation agreement where both parties agree to split up their debts and assets.  This agreement can be a wonderful opportunity to resolve potentially contentious issues amicably.  There are other options, as well.  Call now to find out if a separation agreement is right for you.

    You can speak with an experienced, knowledgeable and caring divorce attorney about your separation in Wilmington, NC, Wrightsville Beach, Carolina Beach, Leland, Hampstead, Landfall, New Hanover County, Pender County, or Brunswick County by calling (910) 341-7570 today.

  • What is your approach to divorce and child custody cases in Wilmington, NC?

    At Speaks Law Firm our focus is on you and your priorities.  What do you want to accomplish?  What is important to you?  What are your concerns?  We work on each family law case like it is our only case.  We understand how important these matters are to you.  After all, what is more important than family?

    • Divorce
    • Collaborative Divorce
    • Child Support
    • Child Custody
    • Post Separation Support
    • Alimony
    • Equitable Distribution
    • Separation Agreements
    • Breach or Separation Agreements
    • Consent Agreements
    • Domestic Violence
    • Trials
    • Appeals

    We understand that these issues produce financial and emotional challenges.  Most people do not know what to expect.  Uncertainty causes anxiety.

    Our philosophy is that knowledge as power.  We give you the information that you need to understand the rules and the process.  By doing that, we are able to reduce uncertainty.  You can see the issues more clearly.  As a result, you are able to make good decisions. 

    After you have made good decisions, we put our experience to work for you.  We develop a cost-effective strategy for achieving your objectives.  We work to find every inch of common ground we can find.  We will resolve every issue we can by agreement.  If a fair and reasonable agreement cannot be reached, we can aggressively pursue your objectives in court.

    Divorce Custody Equitable Distribution Separation in Wilmington, Wrightsville Beach, Carolina Beach, Kure Beach, Porter’s Neck, Hampstead, Leland, New Hanover County, Pender County, Brunswick County and the surrounding areas.

  • What should I look for in a divorce lawyer?


    North Carolina Family Lawyer:  Rule 1 - Do No Harm

    Wilmington Divorce LawyerPhoto of family going through divorceDivorce and custody cases can be heartbreaking and painful. They are almost always emotionally and legally challenging for all of those involved. Because most divorce and custody cases are emotionally charged disputes, your lawyer must be careful not to add fuel to the fires of conflict. She must listen to your concerns in order to understand the important issues and establish your priorities. She must work to identify solutions and evaluate alternatives. She must fight when it is necessary—and compromise when it is not.

    It is possible to negotiate through a divorce, child custody revision, or request for domestic violence protective orders without poisoning family relationships or destroying a family's finances. When the Wilmington Divorce and Custody Lawyer Ashley Smith at Speaks Law Firm represents you, you can be assured she is committed to achieving your family law objectives without destroying your family.

    Your divorce does not have to be a disaster. We will fight when necessary.  We can also negotiate with your spouse’s attorneys to resolve as many issues as possible through compromise, allowing the parties—rather than a judge—to control the outcome. Call us locally at 910-341-7570 or statewide toll-free at 877-593-4233 to learn how we can help bring your situation to a resolution that will allow your family to move forward in a positive direction even after divorce.

  • Should I get a divorce?

    Wilmington Divorce Attorney Ashley Smith

    Is it absolutely necessary?

    When considering divorce, it is important gather information and consider it carefully.  At Speaks Law Firm, we don't encourage divorce. We don't take it lightly. We understand how families are affected. However, if divorce is inevitable, we want you to know what to do in order to protect your assets and your relationships.  

    If you are considering divorce, it is important to ask questions.  Consider alternatives.  Is a divorce going to solve the problems?  Can you and your spouse work through the problems?  Is reconciliation an option?  How will divorce affect your finances and your family? We never want to encourage divorce if a marriage can be saved. However, sometimes divorce is necessary.

    What matters most?

    Divorce and Custody LawyersSometimes divorce is the only way.  When it is, it is important to focus on what is really important to you.  Divorce is confrontational by definition.  You may have to fight to protect your assets or your time  with your kids.  You must protect your relationship with your children.  Sometimes you have to be aggressive. 

    Avoid unnecessary conflicts.

    Wilmington Divorce Lawyer Ashley SmithIt is important to protect these things without causing unnecessary harm.  Many people waste time, energy and money fighting over issues that are not really that important to their core objectives.  Extensive court battles can cause damage to your finances and to your relationships.  It is your lawyer’s responsibility to help you accomplish what is important to you without causing needless conflict or incurring unnecessary expense.

    Create a plan.

    Finding the right divorce attorney can be challenging.  If you have questions call Wilmington Divorce Attorney Ashley Smith. Ashley is lead divorce attorney at Speaks Law Firm.  Her practice is entirely focused on Divorce, Custody and Family Law.

    Ashley can listen to you story.  She can give you practical information about the process and develop a comprehensive plan for your particular circumstances.  She can give you opinions about your best course of action.  This information will empower you by helping you make informed decisions.  Informed decisions produce good results.


  • What causes divorce?

    What Causes Divorce?

    There are lots of different causes for divorce.  Every case is different.  However, in my experience three factors contribute more than most.

    Lawyers identify financial pressure as leading cause of divorce in Wilmington, NC.First, constant disagreement over financial issues causes many marital problems.  Income, expenses, savings, investments and college funds can be sources of dispute.  I find this to be especially true when times are tough.

    The second common cause is when people just grow apart.  Their interests, motivations and expectations change over time.  Sometimes people evolve into people who are different than they were when they got married.  They become interested in different things.  We see this sometimes when one spouse becomes more or less interested in health and fitness or church and faith.

    The third leading cause for divorce in is initial incompatibility.  In other words, sometimes the marriage never made sense from the beginning.  Maybe your spouse just is not who you thought they were.  Maybe they engage in immoral, illegal or unpleasant behavior and you realize that you do not want that type of behavior in your life.

    You may need a lawyer to fight for custody in a divorce.Whatever the cause, if you are facing divorce there are things you must do immediately to protect your family and your access to your children.  Call now to find out what you need to do to prepare (910) 341-7570.

  • After divorce, are fathers forgotten?

         Our grandmothers were homemakers.  They were cooked, cleaned and cared for children.  Men worked.  After a long day they Custody in the old days.sat down, put their feet up and read the paper. They watched the news and played golf on Saturdays.

         Our parents’ generation was different.  Many women went to work.  Still, they had a larger share of the responsibility in the family home.  After work, many women would cook, clean and care for children while men watched the news and played golf on Saturdays.

         Things have changed.  Many women work just as hard as men do in order to provide for their children.  The role of a father is different, as well.

          Playing with kidsAs fathers today, we get our kids up, get them dressed and get them to school.  We read stories, find lost teddy bears and kiss boo-boos.  We go to soccer games, practices and clinics.  We talk, and we listen.  We hug, snuggle and kiss. We examine report cards and participate in parent-teacher conferences.  We praise.  We discipline. We inform about the dangers of strangers, cars and rattle snakes.  We regulate the consumption of broccoli and frozen yogurt. We race across grocery stores whispering words of encouragement in search of potties.  We are not perfect, but we are there.  We are involved.  We are trying. We are parents.

          Yet, after divorce we are forgotten.  The mother gets primary custody.  The father gets limited visitation.  We can see our children every other week-end, half of holidays and a few weeks out of the summer.

         Judge in a child custody caseThis is so not because of bad law.  The law gives no presumption to the value of either parent.  This is so because the courts have misconceptions about out level of involvement North Carolina judges are smart, knowledgeable and fair, but they need accurate information.

         Identifying injustice is the easy part.  What can we do about it?

         Child custody lawyers in Wilmington NCWe can prove it.  We can use technology, creativity and effort to prove to our judges that we have positive relationships with our children.  We can show that our children deserve to have real relationships with their fathers.  We can demonstrate that real relationships require adequate access.  Call (910) 341-7570 to discover what Ashley Smith at Speaks Law Firm can do to help you prove your importance, protect your access and promote your relationship with your children.

  • My marriage is over. I’m meeting with my divorce lawyer for the first time in a couple days. How should I prepare?

    First of all, relax. Meeting with a North Carolina divorce attorney isn’t going to be a stressful occasion. We admit it’s not going to be a happy occasion by any means—you are, after all, going to be talking about the end of your marriage, and that’s a serious topic. But divorce attorneys are known for their sympathetic nature. They won’t hurt you.

    Trust us, this isn’t comparable to a trip to a dentist for root canal surgery, or a trip to the doctor for a report about a suspicious lump under your skin. This consultation will be solemn, but not grim.

    We can’t be 100 percent sure what your divorce lawyer will expect from you. What we can do is tell you a little bit about how Speaks Law Firm attorneys handle their first appointments with divorce clients.

    Four critical areas to be considered

    We generally start by outlining the process of divorce in North Carolina courts. We’ll get information from you about where you and your spouse live, because that may influence the filing process. We then explain the typical time frame for divorce proceedings.

    There are four important issues that will need to be examined in every North Carolina divorce action:

    • Division of marital property and debts
    • Alimony, or cash payments from one spouse to support the other
    • Child custody, if you and your spouse have children together
    • Child support, if you and your spouse have children together

    If you and your spouse have been able to come to a mutual understanding on one or more of these issues, that's great. Your agreement will become the basis of the court’s final divorce orders. Even if you have an incomplete agreement, we will tell you how we can negotiate with your spouse’s attorney to get a deal.

    Any area in which you cannot get an agreement with your spouse will have to be decided by the judge, with appropriate arguments from each side. If that’s the case, we can begin working almost immediately on a persuasive presentation that will serve your best interests. To do that effectively, we will need access to copies of your financial records for the past several years. We don’t expect you to bring in all these documents at your first visit, but you can save a lot of time making sure that these records are available to you:

    • Tax returns. State and federal income tax returns, plus any other taxes that you, your spouse, or your family have paid
    • Statements from the financial advisers serving you and your spouse
    • Accounting reports from any business you or your spouse may own, or that you own together
    • Bank records. We would want statements for any bank or credit union account that is personally owned by you, your spouse, both of you jointly, and any accounts in your children’s names
    • Investment property records
    • Stockbroker records for any investment accounts
    • Records for pensions and retirement savings plans owned by you or your spouse.

    These are just the most common records that we will require. After talking with you about your specific financial situation, we may need additional documents, or we may be able to pare down this list considerably.

    Moving forward together

    Above all, the initial meeting is a chance for you and your new attorney to get a feel for working with each other. It should be a sympathetic and respectful relationship. You should be able to leave that first meeting with a sense that you have chosen to hire the North Carolina divorce lawyer who is the best suited for your personality and your specific needs.

    If you don’t feel that way—if you find you are uncomfortable discussing your personal information or financial data, for example—then you may wish to continue searching for a lawyer you can trust.

    We’re sorry to hear that your marriage is ending, and we hope that the lawyer you have chosen is a great match for you. If we can be of any help in the future, you can reach the Wilmington family law attorneys at Speaks Law Firm by calling 910-341-7570 locally or 877-593-4233 toll-free from anywhere in North Carolina.

  • My husband and I have been married for four years, and now I have suspicions that he’s been cheating on me. Do I confront him about his actions?

    Confronting him may seem like a satisfying way to vent your anger, but it’s not usually a helpful approach. You admit now that you have “suspicions,” but perhaps no real proof. What will you do if he denies your accusations? What happens if he comes up with a plausible explanation for any evidence you have gathered?

    What you really need to do right now is decide what actions you want to take if your suspicions turn out to be true. Would you want marriage counseling, ideally leading to reconciliation? Do you want a separation—and, if so, what kind of separation? Or do you know that you want a divorce?

    Unfortunately, you’re too emotionally invested in the outcome to make such a decision dispassionately. Your best option might be to schedule an appointment with a North Carolina adultery attorney who can guide you through your options based on your specific personal circumstances.

    Some of our clients choose to hire a private investigator to confirm or deny their suspicions. You may wish to do that, too, if it’s affordable for you. Your attorney may be able to recommend a skilled and reliable investigator if you need one.

    As you may be aware, adultery is grounds for a divorce from bed and board—the North Carolina term for a legal separation. In turn, a divorce from bed and board can be a precursor for a full divorce—called absolute divorce in our state—a year later. Marital misbehavior such as adultery may also be a critical factor for a judge who is dividing the property of the marriage equitably, and adultery could also influence the court’s child custody decisions.

    A spouse’s adultery, then, may have profound implications for your marital and financial future. The degree of the influence will depend on your specific situation.

    For a deeper understanding, we encourage you to contact the Speaks Law Firm at 910-341-7570 or toll-free at 877-593-4233 to schedule an appointment with one of our skilled Wilmington divorce lawyers in the near future.

  • I am 20 weeks pregnant with my first baby. My boyfriend left me a few days ago, saying he wants nothing more to do with me or the baby. What are my legal rights? I can’t afford to pay for all the stuff the baby will need.

    There’s no reason why you should have to take on this burden alone. It takes two people to make a baby, and both of them are legally responsible for the child’s wellbeing. Your ex-boyfriend no longer has the chance to “opt out” of parenthood.

    The fact that you aren’t married will not penalize your unborn child in any way. You, on the other hand, will not have the same legal rights in dealing with your turncoat boyfriend as you would have had if you were married; for instance, you can’t ask the court to award you spousal support after your breakup.

    Establishing paternity

    The first step in getting your baby what she needs is establishing paternity. The easiest way would involve your ex-boyfriend admitting that he is the father by being present when the baby is born and completing the necessary paperwork, or else later filing an affidavit—a legal document that expresses someone’s sworn statement. From what you have told us, it doesn’t seem like this guy is going to step forward in that way.

    The alternative, then, is for you to file a civil paternity action in North Carolina court. The judge will order genetic tests for you, the baby, and your former boyfriend. If the blood tests indicate a likelihood of 97 percent or more that your ex-boyfriend is indeed the father, then by law “the alleged parent is presumed to be the father and the results are admitted as evidence by the court.”

    Paternity establishes rights

    Once your baby’s paternity has been proven, you will be able to ask the court to demand reasonable child support payments from the father. The North Carolina family court judge will assign your ex-boyfriend a monthly sum of money he must pay you to help meet his child’s needs. As your child ages, you can even ask the court to change the amount of child support to reflect the greater needs and expenses of a growing child. In most cases, the obligation for child support ends at age 18 or when your child gets married.

    Once paternity is determined, your child also gains the rights to inherit money from her father.

    We should also note that the father gains some rights by the paternity suit. He gains the right to ask the court for custody and visitation schedules (sometimes called “parenting time”). From your description, it sounds unlikely that he will try to exercise these rights now, but he may want to connect with his child sometime in the future.

    Do you have the ability to handle this yourself?

    Taking your former boyfriend to court over paternity issues is probably something outside your normal range of skills and comfort (even if you weren’t five weeks pregnant). When you can’t handle something this important on your own, it’s time to call in the trustworthy and friendly North Carolina child support lawyers from Speaks Law Firm in Wilmington. Call us today toll-free at 877-593-4233 to learn how we can help you give your developing child the best start in life she can get.