Court of Appeals Rules on Distribution of Property in Divorce

Board Certified Family Law Specialist Matt Arnold answers the question: ” Is there some property that the judge cannot divide?”


Deciding to file for divorce in North Carolina can be difficult. Not only are you dealing with the emotional ramifications that might come along with ending a marriage, but you are also faced with dividing physical property between you and your soon to be ex-spouse. Recently, the North Carolina Court of Appeals ruled on a divorce case with some issues surrounding the division of marital property.


shaking-hands-Charlotte-Monroe-Lake-Norman-Divorce-Lawyer-300x195Watson v. Watson


In Watson v. Watson, the couple married in 1989 and separated in 2009, but did not file for divorce until 2015. Dwight Watson filed for divorce and also equitable division. After Dwight filed for divorce, Gurtha Watson made her own counterclaims. She asked for post separation support, alimony, equitable distribution, unequal division of marital property, and lastly, attorneys fees.


The lower trial court went through the process of finalizing a divorce. The relevant decisions the trial court made, as they relate to the appeal, involve the trial court judge awarding an unequal distribution/division of the marital property that was in the wife, Gurtha’s, favor. However, her request for post separation support was denied. Dwight appealed this decision.


At issue in the unequal distribution of property was the marital home. The home was bought together by both spouses about a year before they were married as joint tenants. The trial court found that there was substantial equity in the home as marital property. It also found that the home was “separate property.” The home was awarded to Gurtha. Under North Carolina law, when looking at property, there are different requirements for separate property. Separate property cannot be separated. Equity in the home, however, could be separated because any improvements made during the marriage could constitute marital property. The court of appeals found the two findings, separate and marital property, of the court of appeals to be in conflict.


The appeals court tried to explained equitable distribution as a three-step process for the trial court to carry out:

  • Make a determination of what property is marital and therefore divisible;
  • Determine what the net value of the property is; and
  • Equitably divide that property.


The trial court failed to complete the above three steps. Specifically, the court did not place value in the equity that was in the home. Additionally, there was no value given to the couple’s 401(k). Without determining the value of the equity in the home, the court erred in making the uneven division of property. The court used the assets, equity, and 401(k) value to make the uneven distribution of marital property. As such, the court of appeals remanded this case back to the trial court. While in trial court, the court needs to evaluate the value of the property, obtain new evidence, and eventually enter in a new order or divorce decree.


Divorce can be a difficult path to navigate. Not only is it emotionally draining, but dividing assets can be extremely tricky and difficult. The divorce attorneys at Arnold & Smith, PLLC are here to help you. We can help with everything from the initial filing of the divorce papers, negotiations to come to an agreement about division of assets, or even appealing the decision or divorce order entered. A divorce needs to be handled correctly. Hire the attorneys with the skill and knowledge to give you the best possible representation. Contact us today to find out how we can help. If you find yourself facing a complicated family law matter and need the help of experienced family-law attorneys in or around Charlotte, Lake Norman, or our new office in Monroe (by appointment only until 2019), please contact Arnold & Smith, PLLC today at (704) 370-2828 or find additional resources here.







The family law practice group at Arnold & Smith, PLLC includes two Board-Certified Family Law specialists and one Child Welfare Law specialist, as well as several attorneys with many years of family law experience that are committed to providing a powerful voice to individuals facing the often-tumultuous issues in this area of law. The range of issues our family law clients may be facing include pre- and post-nuptial agreements; separation agreements; post-separation support; child support (both temporary and permanent); absolute divorce; divorce from bed and board; military divorce; equitable distribution of assets; child custody (both temporary and permanent); retirement benefits and divorce; alimony and spousal support; adoption; and emancipation. Because this area of the law is usually emotionally charged and complicated, the family law attorneys at Arnold & Smith, PLLC act with the utmost dedication to ensure that each client understands his or her options, and then act to achieve the best result possible for that client’s particular situation.





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