The court should treat both spouses fairly and equally in a divorce. However, the spouse who files first in a divorce may have some benefits at the responding spouse's expense. Filing for divorce is a serious step and a spouse may have reasons to reconsider or put off filing. Even after talking about a divorce, one spouse may still be surprised to be handed the formal divorce papers, which requires immediate attention.
Does the Court Give Preference to the Spouse who Files for Divorce First?
The court does not give preferential treatment to the spouse who files for divorce first. When a judge is deciding child custody, alimony, and how to divide up marital property, the court is not supposed to consider who filed first as a factor in those decisions. However, being the first to control the divorce process can have some advantages.
The party who files the complaint is the “plaintiff” in the divorce and the other spouse is the “defendant.” This generally means that the plaintiff is the first to have their say in court and the defendant will be the first to respond. The plaintiff who filed the divorce gets to present their case first before the judge.
Divorce on Your Own Terms
By being the first to file in a divorce, the divorce is initially under your control. It can be a significant event when the formal divorce papers are in your hands. The difference between a spouse threatening divorce and actually being served the divorce paper may be enough to make the other spouse make significant changes to their practices and behaviors that end up saving the marriage. Then, the spouse who filed for divorce has the ability to withdraw the complaint.
The first to file also may have the benefit of time to prepare for the divorce. This includes finding the right North Carolina divorce attorney to act as your advocate through the process. After consulting with your attorney, you will have a better idea of the process, what to expect, and understand your options in going through a divorce.
Alternatively, the spouse who does not file for divorce is forced to react to the filing, which also includes a time limit for responding to the complaint. After service of the complaint, the respondent has 30 days to provide a formal answer to the complaint, with a possible extension for more time. Thirty days may not seem like much time when the individual is still balancing work, children, and other obligations of daily life.
For example, Frank is a salesman with a large manufacturing company outside Charlotte. Frank is about to leave on a two-week trip to China for important meetings with a number of suppliers. As Frank is about to head to the airport, Frank is handed a divorce complaint by a sheriff's officer. Frank will have 30 days to file an answer. Unless Frank cancels the trip, he will be busy working and traveling while trying to deal with the divorce response, which could negatively impact his job and his divorce outcome.
Filing for a Divorce
Whether you are first to file or are responding to divorce papers, the most important thing is that you are prepared and protected by an experienced divorce attorney. At Caulder & Valentine Law Firm, PLLC, we have helped spouses protect their rights and interests in a North Carolina divorce. Contact us today in Shelby for a consultation.