There are several legal effects of divorce that you should anticipate and prepare for, including name changes, impact on wills and estates, destruction of equitable distribution or alimony rights, and property rights.
Once divorced, the ex- husband and wife are immediately restored to the “single person” status they had before the marriage began. When a divorce is finalized the woman can change her name back to her maiden name, the surname of a prior deceased husband, or the surname of a prior living husband if she has children with that husband’s surname. A man can change the name he took upon marriage to his pre-marriage surname. The divorce judgment can adopt a change of name if it is properly pleaded in the complaint in counterclaim. There is currently a ten dollar ($10.00) additional charge for a name change in North Carolina.
A divorce judgment can also have serious effects on any wills if they were executed prior to the divorce. A divorce does not revoke a valid will but it does revoke all provisions in the will in favor of the spouse, including the appointment of the former spouse as executor. However, wills can be drafted in such a way where a divorce will not revoke provisions.
Unless the right to equitable distribution is asserted before the judgment of divorce, it will be destroyed upon the entering of a judgment. Similarly, any claims for alimony will be extinguished upon divorce. An absolute divorce or a divorce from bed and board will immediately cause each spouse to lose the right to intestate succession (distribution of a person’s estate not having a will), rights to claim real property of the other spouse, right to elective shares of the other spouse’s estate, the year’s allowance of personal property of the other spouse, and any right to administer the estate of the other spouse. In addition to losing these rights, the parties to an absolute divorce will also lose any right which a spouse may have acquired in the other spouse’s property by virtue of the marriage. Once a divorce judgment is entered, property with title in the other spouse’s name cannot be subject to split.
If there are tenant property involved, divorce will have an effect on tenancy rights. Any property held as tenants by the entirety will automatically convert to a tenancy in common upon the judgment of divorce. In a tenancy in common, the former spouse owns an undivided one-half interest in the whole property. This means either party can institute a partition proceeding to separate their respective interest in the property.
Distribution of assets and disbursement of alimony is not clear-cut. There are some very important exceptions to the rules.