Steps to Take Before Separation

The most important thing you can do before you separate from your spouse is consult an attorney to help you work through the potential pitfalls and consequences of various tactics. We understand, however, that not everyone has the opportunity or financial ability to meet with a lawyer prior to separating. Regardless of whether you’re able to consult an attorney, a successful separation requires you to plan ahead. Each family situation is unique, but there are certain common issues that every plan will need to address:


Credit Cards. If possible, cancel any joint credit cards you and your spouse might share. This prevents your spouse from running up additional debts in your name, and protects you from allegations of doing the same to them.

Bank Accounts. If you and your spouse have joint checking or savings accounts, it’s often prudent to move some of those funds into a newly created account in your own name. This will help ensure that you don’t end up penniless if your spouse decides to empty your accounts in retaliation for the separation. But remember not to take more than half of any shared account.

Direct Deposit & Automatic Bill Pay. If you’re paid by direct deposit, make sure that you contact your employer to ensure that your post-separation payments are deposited into your new account. By the same token, make sure any bills that were paid automatically from your old accounts are adjusted accordingly.

Shelter & Transportation

Housing. If you’re the one moving out of the marital home, make sure you’ve got a plan in place for where you’ll be living. Make sure that you’ve submitted apartment applications in advance, and have enough money set aside for a rental deposit, at least one month’s rent, and any deposits necessary to get utilities turned on in your new home.

Transportation. Make sure that you choose a place that has access to public transportation, or that you’ve made arrangements with friends or family members to provide transportation if you’re unable to take a vehicle with you when you separate. You’ll need to ensure you can get to work or other appointments, and that your children will be able to get to school.

Car Payments & Auto Insurance. Check the expiration date on your auto insurance, and make sure you’ve made arrangements for premiums and car payments to be made. Don’t rely on your spouse.

Important Documents

Make copies of all important documents, including:

  • Financial account and mortgage statements
  • Retirement or pension account statements
  • Credit card statements
  • Stock or bond ownership certificates
  • Trust documents
  • Wills, powers of attorney, and health care proxies
  • Marital or prenuptial contracts
  • Deeds to any real property you might own
  • Lease agreements
  • Car or other vehicle titles
  • Your birth certificate and social security card
  • Your children’s birth certificates and social security cards
  • Your passport and your children’s passports
  • Life and health insurance policies and cards
  • Family pictures or letters that have sentimental value

Powers of Attorney & Healthcare Proxies. If you’ve given your spouse power of attorney or named him or her as the person who can make healthcare and end-of-life decisions on your behalf, you should consult a lawyer about changing those documents as soon as possible.

Inheritance Documents. If you’ve inherited money or property during the course of the marriage, make sure to keep or obtain documents proving the inheritance. Inherited property can be treated differently in the division of property, and your lawyer will need documentation.

Computers & Online Accounts

Devices in Your Spouse’s Control. Before you separate, make sure that you’ve logged out of any financial, email, social networking, or file sharing accounts on every device that will remain in your spouse’s control following the separation. Many web browsers (Internet Explorer, Safari, Firefox, Google Chrome, etc.) now store passwords and usernames for easy access, so you may need to remove stored passwords from each browser on each device. Instructions for doing so can be found at the following links: Internet ExplorerSafariFirefoxChrome. Remember that even devices like smart phones and ebook readers often have web browsers built in.

Online Passwords. Change your online passwords for any financial, email, social networking, or file sharing accounts you might have. Don’t pick passwords that have to do with birthdays, children’s names, pets’ names or childhood nicknames, as those are the easiest for your spouse to guess. Internet security professionals have developed best practices for creating passwords, which you should consult.

Social Networking and Dating Web Sites. In recent years, social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter have become goldmines for digging up dirt in family law cases. Before you separate, make sure that you’ve removed objectionable posts and pictures, and untagged yourself from objectionable pictures on other people’s profiles. Make sure that you understand the privacy settings for your accounts, and that you’re using them correctly and effectively. Facebook and Twitter each have pages detailing how to use their privacy settings properly. As a general rule, if your grandmother would think a post or picture was inappropriate, remove it. If you have any dating site profiles set up, take them down.

Child Support Resources

Internet Resources

North Carolina Child Support Enforcement

Child Support Calculators:

Worksheet A: Use when only one parent has the minor children for at least 243 nights each year.

Worksheet B: Use when neither parent has the minor children for at least 243 nights each year.

Worksheet C: Use when both parents have at least one of the minor children at least 243 nights each year.

Online Child Support Payments

Local Enforcement Offices

Orange County

Phone: (919) 245-2175
Fax: (919) 644-3019

131 W. Margaret Lane Post Office Box 8181 Hillsborough, NC 27278

Monday – Friday
8:00 am – 5:00 pm


Chatham County

Phone: (919) 542-2759
Fax: (919) 542-6494

102 Camp Drive
P.O. Box 489 Pittsboro, NC 27312

Monday – Friday
8:00 am – 5:00 pm


Durham County Child Support Enforcement

Phone: (919) 560-8000

414 E. Main St.

Durham, NC 27701

Monday – Friday
8:15 am – 5:30 pm


Wake County

Phone: (919) 856-6630

316 Fayetteville Street
Raleigh, NC 27601

Monday – Friday
9:00 am – 5:00 pm


Divorce Do’s & Don’t’s

Simple Guidelines to Keep in Mind

DO take threats and acts of domestic violence seriously. Call 911 and consult with a domestic violence agency or an attorney if you feel threatened, or if believe you or your children are in danger.

DO consult with a local family law attorney. Your best friend’s cousin who practices criminal law in Oklahoma is not likely to know the relevant rules or procedures for a North Carolina family law case.

DO create an inventory of your assets. Video or photograph your property—even the things you are planning on taking with you—and keep that record somewhere safe.

DO make a plan for your separation before you leave. The more you leave to chance or work out on the fly, the more complicated your case will be. Remember that it can take between 30 days and 6 months to get into court to get money or property from your ex.

DO get your debts paid down as much as possible. Regardless of how good your attorney is, or how guilty or generous your ex feels, it’s more expensive for two people to live in two houses than for two people to live in one house. Your financial lifestyle is likely to suffer, and the less debt you have, the better.

DO try to save or borrow money for an attorney ahead of time. A lot of factors go into how expensive a break up may be, but you are probably going to need at least $2,500 to get started. It could cost more if your case has complicated legal issues, or if you or your ex care more about the fight than the outcome.

DO be prepared for the fact that this process is going to take longer than you want it to take. Arbitrary deadlines, such as “I want to be done by Christmas” are a recipe for disappointment. You can’t control the court schedule, your attorney’s schedule and workload, or the schedule or workload of your ex’s attorney. Judges, attorneys, witnesses, and parties are all subject to illness, family emergencies, work emergencies, and other interruptions that cause delays and continuances. The more patient you are, the less frustrating the process will be. Remember that the one factor you have complete control over is how fast you respond to your attorney.

DO get a P.O. Box or complete a change your address form. If your mail is being delivered to your ex’s house, you may not receive important information. And even though mail may be addressed to you, your ex would have complete access to mail you might not want them to see—especially correspondence with your attorney.

DO change your passwords on all of your accounts. This is especially true of financial, email, and social media accounts.

DO turn off the GPS tracking feature off on your mobile phone, tablet, or laptop. Most mobile phones can be tracked remotely by anyone with access to the account. It can be difficult to disable this feature without help, so don’t be afraid to call your phone service provider for help. Consider getting a separate telephone account if you and your ex are on the same one. If you can afford it, it’s often best to purchase new devices entirely.

DO check under your car for any tracking devices. Even in less volatile cases, ex-spouses will often hire private investigators who use tracking devices to collect evidence for your ex.

DO unfriend your ex on Facebook or other social media sites. Even the best privacy filters can malfunction, or be changed without warning.

DO change the locks if your ex is the one who moved out and established a new residence. Let your ex know—in writing—that he or she is not welcome in the marital residence, and that you will obtain a warrant for Domestic Criminal Trespass if your ex returns to the residence without written permission. Email and text messages are considered “writings” in this context.

DO assume that everything you write or say to your ex or in public will end up in front of a judge or jury. You should assume that all conversations with your ex, their family, or friends is being recorded, and that all emails, text messages, and written notes are being saved. And yes, the internet counts as “in public”.

DO consult with an attorney before dating, living together or having sexual relations with the new love of your life. There are sometimes important consequences to these types of actions, and attorneys are trained to spot them.

DO consult a therapist or your attorney regarding your children’s well-being throughout the process. Children grieve in different ways and at different times with each parent.

DO change your will, and change the beneficiaries on your life insurance policies, retirement plans and other documents.

DO trust the legal advice of your attorney over that of your friends or family members.Every case is different, and just because your sister’s friend’s neighbor got sole custody of the children and $10,000 a month in alimony after having an affair and doing drugs, does not mean that your case will turn out the same way.

DO educate yourself. You should familiarize yourself with the North Carolina laws relevant to your situation, and read the websites of other family law attorneys.

DO seek the advice of financial planners, tax professionals and therapists, in consultation with your attorney.

DO realize that there light at the end of the tunnel. Even if your case seems like a nightmare, it will eventually be resolved. Keeping a sense of humor is as important during a court case as it is in the rest of your life—if not more so.

Chatham County Family Violence Prevention Services


24-hour Crisis Line: 919-545-7867

Office Address: 65 E. Chatham St. (Bottom Level), Pittsboro, NC



Second Bloom of Chatham


Phone: 919-545-0055

Office Address: PO Box 598, Pittsboro, NC 27312



Orange County Rape Crisis Center

Office Address: 1506 E Franklin St. Suite 200, Chapel Hill, NC

Phone Number: (919) 968-4647


Compass Center for Women & Families


24-hour Crisis Line: (919) 929-7122

Domestic Violence Services: (919) 929-3872
Self-Sufficiency Services: (919) 968-4610

Durham Crisis Response Center


24-hour Crisis Lines
English: (919) 403-6562
Español: (919) 519-3735

Office Telephone: (919) 403-9425

Interact of Wake County


24-hour Crisis Lines
Domestic Violence: (919) 828-7740
Sexual Assault: (919) 828-3005

Office Telephone: (919) 828-7501Office Fax: (919) 828-8304

For a full list of service providers, please visit the website of
North Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

Rules for Communicating with your Co-Parent through Email

by Cynthia Sortisio, PhD

  1. Be clear in your mind about what you want to accomplish before you send the email (e.g., you would like him/her to keep the kids an extra day…).
  1. Be direct, but polite; don’t try to be tricky.
  1. Start with a salutation. It doesn’t have to be formal: “Hi” and your Co-Parent’s name is fine.
  1. End with a closing: e.g., “Thanks for considering this” and sign your name.
  1. Don’t use capital letters except for proper nouns or the first letter of a sentence. CAPITALIZED WORDS IN EMAILS ARE EASILY INTERPRETED AS SHOUTING.
  1. Similarly, don’t use multiple exclamation points!!!!! or question marks???? – Both come across as being aggressive.
  1. Stick to the necessary facts and your real question. Don’t use email to deliver a lecture, commentary, advice or instruction – unless the instruction has been specifically requested.
  1. If a request is made of you in an email and you are saying “No,” you don’t have to give excuses, lengthy reasons, or say why you think the request is out of line. It is enough to say, “I am sorry but I can’t help you out this time” – always accompanied by a salutation and civil closing.
  1. If a time limit for the response is needed, put it in your email, but don’t ask or expect that it be immediate. Give at least 24 hours; the more time you can give, the better.  (And don’t follow up with capitalized exclamatory requests for a response.  You know s/he is going to get great satisfaction from hitting the “Delete” button.)
  1. Don’t send or reply to emails in haste, unless it is a legitimate emergency – that is, someone’s health or life is in danger. Take as much time as possible before you hit the “Send” button.  If there is the remotest possibility that you have not said what you want to say in a civil and respectful tone, send it to yourself first.  Look at it the next day and make sure it says exactly what you want in a civil and respectful way.
  1. Respond to all emails you receive within 24 hours, even if only to acknowledge receipt. If you are not able to answer a question, reply and let your co-parent know when you will have a response.
  1. One trick is to respond to the email the way it should have been written (politely, unemotionally), rather than how it was actually written.
  1. Remember BIFF: brief, informative, friendly, firm.

Parent Coordination Basics

by Cynthia Sortisio, PhD

These are a few of the standard, very basic expectations I have for parents for whom I am providing parenting coordination services.

EMAILS: polite, business-like, issue-focused.  No personal commentary, sniping, or irrelevant references to the past.  You should not feel embarrassed if your boss or your mother were to read your emails.  Remember, they are a written record of your behavior that can be used against you, or for you!  Respond within 24 hours, if only to acknowledge receipt.  If you are having difficulty using email in an appropriate, effective manner, I may require you to copy me on all emails to each other so that I can monitor and instruct.  In extreme cases, I will require you to email me only so that I can review and edit as needed before forwarding to the other parent.

You may email me to schedule appointments and to alert me to issues.  I will not dialog back and forth with you over email to discuss issues.  You need to schedule phone or in-person appointments to discuss issues.

Bill Eddy has some useful tips that I would like you to check out.  The only place where I disagree is that I require you to respond to every email, if only to acknowledge receipt.  One trick is to respond to the email the way it should have been written (politely, unemotionally), rather than how it was actually written.  Remember BIFF: brief, informative, friendly, firm.

TEXTS: to be used for urgent or emergency information, material that has to be known within 24 hours, such as the child is sick and is not in the usual place.

ON-LINE CALENDAR: use one to post all of the child’s activities.  I recommend google or Our Family Wizard.  There is a fee for OFW, but it is far less than parents have typically spent litigating.  You must have a common calendar.  Please choose one or I will choose one for you.

SCHOOL COMMUNICATION: in an ideal world, teachers and schools would send home every piece of paper to both homes, as well as every email.  We do not live in an ideal world.  You have two options: scan in every piece of communication you receive from school and email it to the other house OR leave every piece of paper (including the child’s work) in a folder in your child’s backpack and put your initials on it.  Then it will travel to the other house where the other parent can see it, with your initials indicating that you have seen it.  At this point, the second parent can remove it from the folder.

It is EACH parent’s responsibility to communicate with the school office and all teachers to provide contact information.  It is NOT your co-parent’s responsibility to provide your contact information for you.

The same rules apply to other organizations to which the child may belong, such as soccer team or Scouts.

OUT OF TOWN TRAVEL: Each parent is entitled to know the child’s whereabouts.  If you are going to be away from home with your child, then you need to provide your co-parent with an address, dates, and land-line, if one is available.  This needs to be done in advance.  If you are planning to travel yourself, without your child, it is polite to let the other parent know that you will be out of town in case of emergency, and provide contact information if you do not anticipate cell coverage.

NAMES: Refer to your co-parent by his/her first name.  Names humanize (or demonize) us.  To your child, refer to “mom” or “your dad” or whatever nickname your child uses in your family.  Help your child identify appropriate names for step-parents that are respectful, comfortable for all, and not threatening to the biological parents.

DOCTOR APPOINTMENTS:  Note all appointments (medical, dental, mental health, etc) on your on-line family calendar when you make them.  Do not make appointments on the other parent’s custodial time.  After appointments, provide the other parent with a brief summary via email.

Child Custody Mediation

In North Carolina, mediation is mandatory in child custody cases. Averett Family Law recently collaborated with Orange and Chatham County custody mediator, Kristen Atkinson, to create and updated flyer explaining this mandatory custody mediation process. We hope you find this document helpful!