Consulting with us, or any family lawyers for that matter, will leave you feeling on so many occasions like you're being forced to learn a foreign language. Click here for a glossary of common terms, descriptions and procedural matters you're likely to hear time and again throughout your case.

Select a category below to read the most Frequently Asked Questions:

 

Child Custody (15)

Is mediation the best approach to solving disagreements about child custody?

In a word, yes. Mediation is mandatory in North Carolina and, appropriately so, leaves custody and visitation decision squarely in the hands of the two people who are best qualified to make them: parents. Obligations to one’s marriage are irrelevant when compared with obligations to parent one’s children. In short, parents who refuse to cooperate for the welfare of their children are, quite typically, very disappointed when a Family Court Judge may disagree with them in a custody ruling; and by this time, it’s too late.  We encourage agreement and mediation.

Who determines how much visitation is reasonable and fair?

When a court awards physical custody to one parent and reasonable visitation to the other, the physical custodial parent may generally occupy the driver’s seat in determining what visitation is “reasonable.”  Obviously, if the parents can cooperate, these circumstances create little problem period unfortunately, if sometimes translates into little visitation time with the noncustodial parent, resulting in disputes over missed visits, inconvenience, extracurricular activities, and “family” activities planned by the custodial parent for no reason other than to deprive the noncustodial parent of time with the children. To avoid such problems, many courts now prefer of the parties to work out a fair fairly detailed parenting plan that sets the visitation schedule and outlines who has responsibility for what.  Most North Carolina Family Court judges would prefer parents to negotiate and agree on custody and visitation schedules.

Is race ever an issue in custody or visitation decisions?

The United States Supreme Court has ruled that it is unconstitutional for a court to consider race one and noncustodial parent petitions for a change in custody.  In Palmore v. Sidoti, 466 U.S. 429 (1984), first, the mother was awarded custody of their son; and she remarried an African-American man and moved to a predominately ethnic neighborhood.  The father asked a Florida family court judge to change custody based on the new circumstances surrounding his ex-wife’s marriage and home; not surprisingly, a rather unenlightened Florida Family Court judge granted the modification.  Mercifully, a much more enlightened United States Supreme Court reversed this ruling, holding that societal stigma – especially as it relates to race – cannot be the basis for a child custody determination.

Are there special issues if gay or lesbian parents seek custody or visitation rights?

In a number of states, a parent’s sexual orientation cannot in another itself present a parent from being cussed getting custody or visitation with his or her child.  However, as a practical matter gay and lesbian parents may be denied custody or visitation inasmuch as Family Court Judges, when considering the best interest of a child, may be motivated by their own or community prejudices and may find reasons other than the lesbian or gay parents sexual orientation to deny custody or appropriate visitation.

Does custody always go to just one parent?

No.  Courts frequently award at least partial custody – called joint custody – to both parents.  Joint custody can mean 1) joint physical custody wherein children spend substantial amount of time with both parents, 2) joint legal custody wherein both parents can make health and welfare decisions for the children, of 3) some combination of both.

If I move out and leave my children with their father, does it hurt my chances of getting custody at a later date?

In a word, yes.   Even if you leave to avoid a dangerous or unpleasant situation, if you hope to have custody later it is unwise to leave your children behind.  Leaving your children behind sends a message to the court that the other parent, in our example the father, is a suitable choice for physical custody of the children.  Also, assuming the children stay in the home, continue in the same school, and participated in the usual activities, a Family Court judge may be highly reluctant to change custody if only to avoid disrupting the children’s regular routines.

What is parental alienation syndrome?

“Parental Alienation Syndrome” describes a theory shared by some family and child therapists and counselors, that the actions and behaviors of one parent may disenfranchise the other parent in the child’s eyes to a discernable, quantifiable extent.  Arguing parental alienation typically involves arguing causation based on effect.  For example, arguing that 1) a child typically refuses to see the other parent, 2) a child typically considers the other parent in a uniformly negative light, 3) a child insists on remaining with the alienating parent, usually in a show loyalty, means also that your attorney will then have to prove that the alienating parent is causing these behaviors.   Parental alienation syndrome is not a uniformly accepted diagnosis of any moment.  Is a conclusion shared between and among therapists and counselors, and it is difficult to convey this conclusion to a court in so far as often enough there are alternative explanations for why children act as they do in response to the stresses of divorce.

If the judge in my case orders a child custody evaluation, what should I do?

Cooperate fully with the custody evaluator; the evaluation is designed to find out what is in the best interests of your children. Refusing to cooperate with the evaluator most assuredly proves that you are not acting in your children’s best interests. Custody evaluations are regular part of highly contested custody cases. Share any concerns that arise during the evaluation openly with your evaluator and your attorney.

I want to move to another state with my child. May I do that?

While the answer to this question varies from county to county and state to state, there are several overriding principles that most North Carolina judges consider in ruling on this issue.  In most cases the court will probably weigh the reasons for the move; its probable effects on the minor child; whether you have sole or joint custody; whether the other parent has objected to the move; and, how often the other parent will be able to see the child.  We encourage generosity of spirit when dealing with the other parent whose time with your child will be reduced by your move.

If my child’s other parent is behind on child support payments, can I prevent his visitation?

NO.  Parenting time and child support do not depend on each other.  It is not ever considered to be in the child’s best interests to prevent contact with the other parent because of problems with paying child support.  You have other remedies like going to court or to the child support enforcement agency, to collect past-due child support payments.

Is joint custody better?

While no one solution for custody is right for everyone, most children of divorce benefit from the ongoing involvement of both parents.  Joint custody arrangements will work if the parents live close to each other and/or the parents can work together for the benefit of their children.  Family circumstances like domestic violence, physical or sexual abuse, chemical dependency and, substance abuse and child neglect also affect a court’s determination.

Some studies have been done with regards to this topic. See also in news/blog: http://www.jameszisa.com/children-adjust-better-joint-custody-situations/  

What if our current custody arrangements aren’t working out? Can we change them?

It is not always easy to modify a custody arrangement, especially if the arrangement has been incorporated into a court order or is the result of an agreement between you and your child’s other parent.  The agreement itself may set out methods through which it can be changed.  Also, North Carolina law allows parties to ask a court to change an existing custody order; however, it is typically more difficult to change a custody order then to establish custody in the first instance.  Changing a custody order requires that one party prove a substantial change in circumstances affecting the welfare of the minor child.

What sorts of things does the court consider when deciding who gets custody of minor children?

  • The age, health and special needs of each child;
  • The parent’s lifestyles and the amount of available time and personal resources – meaning time and attention, and not always just money – available to dedicate to the welfare of each child;
  • The parents’ functionality, meaning can the parties work as a cohesive parenting unit – does one parent insult, degrade or denigrate the other parent before the children – or do the parents undermine each others authority and effectiveness;
  • The history of one, or both, parents of being either actively engaged, or effectively disinterested, in their children’s daily lives;
  • The demonstrated willingness of one, or both, parents to allow visitation with the children, even before the Court, determines custody;
  • The tendency of one parent to disregard the rights of the other, to abduct, to secret or to hide the children from the other parent;
  • The existence or evidence of alcohol or drug abuse by one, or both parents, and the mental and emotional stability of any parent who would assume custody of the children;
  • The housing, schooling and numerous other “environmental” considerations that the Court may deem relevant; and,
  •  The existence, to a lesser extent, of a large family network for support and assistance in the raising of the children..

When parents fight over custody, how does a court decide?

In North Carolina, the court makes child custody decisions giving the most possible weight and deference to the best interests of the child.

What is the difference between legal and physical custody?

Physical custody refers to where the child lives and who has responsibility for daily childcare. Legal custody is the decision-making responsibility associated with a child’s education, health and welfare.

Child Support (27)

If my child support order is modified because I no longer can pay the amount ordered will my arrearages change?

No. A change in a child support order will only change the amount paid in the future. It will not change the arrearages.

Can I forgive the parent who is responsible for child support for arrearages?

Yes contact the Child Support Enforcement office. You will have to file a written statement saying that you do not want the arrearages and do not want Child support enforcement to collect it.  Please note, if you receive public benefits, arrearages owed to the state may not be forgiven and must be paid.

What is an arrearage?

An arrearage is the amount of child support a parent has not paid. If someone is paying child support every dollar not paid is added to the arrearage. Sometimes the Child support Enforcement office will collect an extra amount to cover the arrearages.

After the child support order was entered, the father of the child and I have reconciled and we live together. What can we do?

You can ask the child support enforcement office to suspend the order. This means that the order exists but the parent does not have to pay. Contact the Child Support enforcement office to determine how long the support order can remain suspended.  A support order can also be terminated. This means that if you and the parent split again, you would have to reapply for an order.

I receive child support from child’s father but it is not enough to cover the cost of taking care of my child. What can I do?

The amount of child support a child receives is determined by established guidelines. These guidelines take into consideration several factors such as the income of both parents, the number of children, etc. You can ask the court to change the support amount and consider factors outside the guidelines. To do this you must convince the court that there are very good reasons to change the child support amount already ordered.

My son is receiving Social Security disability payments because I am disabled. Do I still have to pay child support payments for him?

You cannot automatically stop making payments under a child support order. If your son is entitled to receive benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA) because you are disabled, you should make sure that an application has been made to SSA for your son’s benefits or child’s benefits.  The amount of child support payment you should pay must be reduced by the amount your son gets from SSA.  The amount of support payments you make may be reduced to zero.  Remember that you should tell the Child support Enforcement caseworker of any Social Security payments to your children so that the support order is changed.  These changes do not occur automatically.

I have become disabled; do I still have to pay child support?

Yes, but if you have no income because you are unable to work you are entitled to a reduction in the amount of child support you pay.  If you receive Supplemental Social Security Disability (SSI) payments, your child support payments should be reduced to zero.  You must tell the caseworker at the Child Support enforcement office that you are disabled and unable to work or are receiving Social Security disability benefits

Can I change a child support order because I have lost my job and can no longer pay the support amount in the order?

Sometimes changes occur after an order has been entered that may make the amount of the support order no longer correct. For example you have lost your job and can only find a job that makes a lot less money or are disabled and cannot work.  Either parent, the one paying child support or the one receiving the child support, can ask the court to change the child support order.  If the original support order was obtained with the assistance of Child Support Enforcement they can assist you for free. If not you will have to pay a small fee.  You should consult with Child Support enforcement to determine if the changes in your circumstances can result in a change in the child support amount. Not every change in income justifies a change in an order

What can I do if the child support payments are too high or too low?

A child support obligation may be reviewed every 36 months.  If the child support order should be modified to increase or lower it, visit the Child support Enforcement office and ask that they assess the present income of both parents. They will determine if a modification is necessary.  A child support order can be changed before the 36 months review. Consult with a lawyer or contact your Child Support Enforcement caseworker.

What does a child support order mean?

A child support order only says who must pay child support and how much. It does not establish rights to custody or who should have visitation, who should pay spousal support or who pays debts. Child support orders deal with child support.

What can the Child Support Enforcement office do?

They can help you locate the parent who should pay support, establish paternity, obtain a child support order for you, collect and distribute the support payments and enforce the child support order.

Can I get help from the local Child Support Enforcement office if I do not get public assistance?

Yes, you must complete an application and pay the required fee.

I am a victim of domestic violence and I am afraid of what he would do once I initiate a child support action. What can I do?

Discuss this specific situation with the caseworker at the Department of Social Services and the local Child Support Enforcement office. It is possible to obtain benefits without pursuing a child support order. There are also protections that may apply to maintain your address confidential.  Contact a Domestic Violence shelter or LANC for further advice

Do I need to file for custody or divorce to get a child support order?

No. The Child Support Enforcement program administered by NC Health and Human Services helps people get child support even when there is no divorce or custody order.  You can apply to the Child Support enforcement office where you live for them to obtain a child support order for your child.

How do I get a child support order?

Only a judge can establish a child support order. Child support obligations may be initiated in numerous ways: action for divorce, action in custody, action for child support, juvenile proceedings, and criminal actions.

Who is responsible for payment of child support?

The father and mother of a child are primarily responsible for the support of a minor child.

What happens if the obligated parent terminates employment?

The employer must notify in writing the child support agency that sent the income withholding notice, the date of termination, last known address of the obligated parent, and the name of his new employer, if known.

What if the obligated parent asks the employer to change the amount of withholding?

Often support obligations are modified by the courts, arrearage amounts are reduced or other circumstances in a particular case may change so that revisions in the amount of withholding could occur. However, neither the obligated parent nor the employer may make changes in the withholding amount. If changes become necessary, you will be notified by the agency that sent the notice to the employer. If an obligated parent has questions, they should contact their child support enforcement agency.

What is meant by disposable income?

Disposable income is that amount which remains after deductions for federal, state and local taxes, Social Security and involuntary retirement contributions.

What is the maximum amount that can be withheld each pay period from the obligated parent’s wages?

Under no circumstances can the percentage of disposable income withheld for child support exceed: 1) 40 percent of disposable income when only one support order exists, 2) 45 percent of disposable income when multiple support orders exist and the obligated parent is supporting a spouse or other children or 50 percent of disposable income when multiple support orders exist and the obligated parent is not supporting a spouse or other children.

How are child support obligations enforced?

If your child support comes through a negotiated agreement, your lawyer can file a breach of contract action and secure an order requiring payment under penalty of contempt of court.  Remedies for contempt of court include money damages, attorneys’ fees and incarceration for non-payment.  If your negotiated agreement already is incorporated into a court order, you can skip ahead and simply ask that your spouse be held in contempt of court for non-payment: there is no need to file a separate lawsuit to enforce the agreement.

If your child support comes through a North Carolina child support enforcement agency action, the agency may 1) request immediate wage withholding, 2) refer the case for intercept of federal and state income tax refunds, 3) file a lien on real or personal property, 4) refer the past-due support debt to credit reporting agencies, 5) request the suspension or revocation of a professional license or a driver’s licenses, and 6) file a contempt of court action.

Federal law requires state child support enforcement agencies to initiate income withholding, in order to ensure that parents obligated to pay support meet this obligation. Previous legislation allowed income withholding only at the time payments became delinquent in an amount equal to one month’s support or at the request of the obligated parent. In 1989 the North Carolina Legislature revised the income withholding law to allow for immediate income withholding in orders for child support entered or modified on or beginning October 1, 1989. In the event income withholding cannot be established immediately, the obligated parent would be subject to income withholding under any of the following circumstances: 1) being delinquent by as much as one month’s support, 2) upon request of the obligated parent, or 3) upon request of the custodial parent or guardian of the child

If my child’s other parent is behind on child support payments, can I prevent his visitation?

NO.  Parenting time and child support do not depend on each other.  It is not ever considered to be in the child’s best interests to prevent contact with the other parent because of problems with paying child support.  You have other remedies like going to court or to the child support enforcement agency, to collect past-due child support payments.

Can I calculate child support myself?

Absolutely.  We favor the North Carolina Worksheet calculation models published by the state of North Carolina; they are accurate and used by our Family Court judges.  Most of the information of interest to you is available online, free of charge, from the state of North Carolina.  Just click this link to the North Carolina Child Support Guidelines, and review the free publication titled North Carolina Child Support Guidelines for yourself, before speaking with a lawyer, or bring them with you to your first consultation

What if something happens and I can’t afford to pay?

Child support is always open to modification based upon a change in circumstances. If you find yourself having a difficult time paying child support, don’t wait until you are behind on your payments before you seek legal advice. Contact our office now and discuss your situation with an attorney. It might be possible to modify your child support if you have a substantial change in circumstances.

Who decides how much child support is awarded?

Ideally, both mother and father agree on the needs of the child and are able to agree on an amount that supports the child. When parents are able to agree on an amount there is no need for court. This often works best for everyone. When parties are unable to agree, a judge will determine how much child support must be paid. The judge will order the party to pay child support and the party must comply with the judge’s order or face contempt of court.

How much will I get or how much will I have to pay?

The amount of child support is based upon the combined monthly income of both mother and father and the needs of the child. Every case is different but it isn’t difficult for us to calculate the amount of child support once we have all of your financial information.

Am I entitled to child support?

Maybe. Child support is calculated by taking into consideration many factors. Specifically, the court will look at the custody arrangement, income of both parties, cost of insurance, and work related child care expenses. Child support is a set formula that is set pursuant to N.C. child support guidelines. As you can see many factors are taken into consideration and every case is different. If you have custody of your child and you think you might be entitled to child support contact our office to schedule a consultation and we can evaluate your specific circumstances and give you more information.

Durable Powers of Attorney (13)

How does my Attorney-in-Fact sign documents?

His or her name, Attorney-in-Fact for Your Name.”

Does my Attorney-in-fact become liable for my debts? Could I become liable for his debts?

No, and no!  Your debts are separate from those owed by your Attorney-in-Fact.  Although he or she can often borrow or sign contracts for you, your Attorney-in-Fact cannot become liable for your debts through the Power of Attorney.  Your Attorney-In-Fact is acting as your agent.  Though your Attorney-in-Fact has control over your assets, his creditors have NO ACCESS to your assets.

Will my Attorney-in-Fact get paid?

An individual acting as your Attorney-in-fact could either:  (i) not get paid, (ii) could get paid as you designate, or (iii) could petition the clerk of court for compensation from your assets.  A corporate Attorney-in-Fact will be paid.

Can my Attorney-in-fact help support my family (fulfill my support obligations), or is my Attorney-in-Fact limited to helping me?

You may authorize your Attorney-In-Fact to pay for the support or maintenance of your family, and/or pay for health care needs of your family.

Can more than one person act as my Attorney-in-Fact at the same time?

Yes, you could name two or more persons to act simultaneously.  You could require that the Co-Attorneys-in-Fact act together (jointly), or you could allow them to act individually (severally).  You should seek competent legal advise before appointing more than one Attorney-In-Fact to act.   Your attorney can help you understand fully the benefits and pitfalls of such a decision.

Should my Attorney-in-Fact have the ability to make gifts?

Because your Attorney-in-Fact can have complete control over your finances, allowing him or her the power to give your property away is very dangerous, but this power is often beneficial for financial or estate planning purposes.  Without this gifting power, no transfers personal property or real estate for less than full consideration can be made.  If you choose to let your Attorney-In-Fact make gifts, this power could be limited to the following: (i) gifts only to a limited class (e.g. your spouse and/or children); (ii) gifts only to persons you have given to before (i.e. planned gifting); (iii) gifts to charities; and, (iv) gifts limited to $14,000 per year, per recipient (the current, 2014 Gift Tax exemption amount).

Where should I keep my Power of Attorney?

You should have the original, unless you presently intend the Attorney-In-Fact to act on your behalf.  Your Attorney-in-Fact should have a copy for reference, and he should have the original if he is presently acting as Attorney-In-Fact.  You could register it immediately, if there is a present need or expectation of future incapacity.  Institutions with which you have significant relationships should have a copy, and they should review the copy for compliance with their policies (e.g. Bank, Brokerage, Employer, etc.)

What is Registration? Should I register my Power of Attorney?

Registration (or recording) involves taking the Power of Attorney to the Register of Deeds and having the document become a public record.  Your Power of Attorney does not have to be registered unless you are incapacitated.  If you do register your Power of Attorney, it will be safe and easy to locate.  (A certified copy will substitute for the original.)  A Power of Attorney must also be recorded in Register of Deeds in every county in which you own real estate, before it can be used in that county.

What do I call the person who holds this power and who should I choose?

This person is your Attorney-in-Fact and should be: (i) someone who you trust with your quality of life and financial affairs, and who knows you and understands your wishes; (ii) someone who is able and knowledgeable; and (iii) someone who is willing and geographically close to you, your banks, business records, etc.  You can name multiple alternates just in case the person you first choose is unable or unwilling to serve as your Attorney-in-Fact.

When is my Power of Attorney valid and how long does it last?

Your Power Of Attorney is usually valid upon signing. However, if you prefer, your Power Of Attorney may become valid ONLY when you are incapacitated (i.e. “springing powers”), or in other limited, specified circumstances, you may name (e.g. Limited Power of Attorney).  Your Power Of Attorney can remain valid until death, revocation (by you) or a time certain specified in the instrument.

What are potential costs of not having a Power of Attorney?

Once, if, you become incompetent or otherwise unable to handle your financial affairs, the costs of empowering another person to act for you are staggering, and include: (i) petitioning court to declare you incompetent; (ii) petitioning court to appoint guardian; (iii) posting a bond with the Court – usually calculated as a percentage of your assets; (iv) filing accountings with court; and (v) the legal fees ($5,000 to $20,000) required to solve an otherwise very simple problem.

Why should I have a Power of Attorney?

To have someone handle your financial affairs: (i) while you are temporarily absent, (ii) while you are incapacitated, (iii) so you, rather than a court, can decide who is best able to handle your finances, and/or (iv) to save time and money.

What is Power of Attorney?

A Power of Attorney is a legal document, which allows you to name another person to act on your behalf for financial matters when you are unwilling or unable to act for yourself.

Health Care Power of Attorney (17)

Can I have both a Living Will and a Health Care Power of Attorney?

Yes.  If the two documents are inconsistent, your Living Will controls.

If I have a Health Care Power of Attorney, do I really need a Living Will?

The documents have two different purposes.  The Living Will allows you to indicate a choice, without leaving the choice exclusively to your Health Care Agent.  Often enough, making end of life decisions for ourselves is far easier than asking our loved ones to do so.  The Living Will relieves our loved ones from making these tough, emotional decisions.

Who determines if I am in a “persistent vegetative state”?

One or more of your treating physicians.  You may specify the particular physician who you would prefer to make this determination.

What is a “persistent vegetative state”?

A condition whereby the patient suffers from a nearly complete loss of brain function, which is irreversible.

What are “artificial nutrition” and/or “artificial hydration”?

The provision or receipt of food (nutrition) or water (hydration) via feeding tubes.

Can my Doctor be my Health Care Agent, after all he knows about my health?

No.  No one providing Health Care to you for compensation can be your Health Care Agent.

If I am divorced and my Health Care Agent is my former spouse, is my former spouse still in charge?

No. Contact our office and we can help you formally designate a new Health Care Agent (910) 399-7800.

What if a court appoints a guardian for me?

The Health Care Power of Attorney is not effective if a personal guardian is appointed.  You can name a guardian in your Health Care Power of Attorney, and courts will follow your choice, unless good cause is shown.

May I have both a Health Care Power of Attorney and a Living Will?

Yes, of course you may and both can be in the same document.  If the two documents are inconsistent, your Living Will controls.

Where should I keep my Health Care Power of Attorney?

The original could be in a secure place or in your safe deposit box, if your Health Care Agent has access.  Your physicians and Health Care Agent should have copies.

What is the difference between a Health Care Power of Attorney and a General Power of Attorney?

The General Power of Attorney deals only with financial, business and contractual powers.   The Health Care Power of Attorney controls for health care and medical treatment.

Who should I name as my Health Care Agent?

Someone who you trust with your health care decisions who (i) knows you and understands your wishes; and (ii) who is willing and available to serve.

Who makes decisions if I do not name a Health Care Agent?

Your spouse or next of kin.  This can be cumbersome, particularly if several persons (e.g. siblings) are involved.

What do I call the person acting under my Health Care Power of Attorney?

Your Health Care Agent or Health Care Attorney-in-Fact.

Is this only valid when I am incapacitated?

Yes.  At any time when you are able to communicate health care decisions, your wishes will be honored.

What is a Health Care Power of Attorney?

A Health Care Power of Attorney allows you to name another person to make medical decisions for you in the event that you become incapacitated.

Last Will and Testament (26)

What if the persons who witnessed my Last Will and Testament are dead, missing or unavailable at the time of my death?

It is not necessary to find witnesses at your death if a notary public certifies the signing of the Will by you and the witnesses.

When should I make a new Last Will and Testament?

I most cases, you should at least review your Last Will and Testament when you undergo major life changes.  Here are a few situations that qualify as such: (i) when you have lost your original Last Will and Testament; (ii) when you marry, divorce, remarry or have children; (iii) when a beneficiary or your spouse dies; (iv) whenever you change your mind or desires about the disposition of your property; and (v) whenever the laws – including the tax laws – change.

What about instructions regarding organ donations or the donation of my body to medical research.

Again, your Last Will and Testament is NOT the instrument for such uses.  These matters should be addressed in your other health care documents and directives.

Do I leave my funeral instructions in my Last Will and Testament?

No. Your Last Will and Testament typically will be read after disposition of your remains, when such instructions are no longer useful.

Why can’t I just label my belongings with the names of the beneficiaries I want to receive them?

Simply labeling property to go to individuals is not a legally valid way to transfer property, and could be ignored

Can I write my own Last Will and Testament?

Of course you can.  As long as it is entirely in your own handwriting it is valid.  NOW, writing your own Last Will and Testament, either in your own handwriting, or by using a “do it yourself” kit you may find on line or in a store is rarely a good idea.  A Last Will and Testament is a complex, legal instrument and the few dollars you may save writing your own may just as easily cost your beneficiaries many times more in legal expenses to deal with problems that could have been avoided had only your Last Will and Testament been drafted by a skilled professional.

What happens to my Last Will and Testament if my spouse dies first, or if I get divorced?

Wills provide for a spouse’s death by directing assets to other people.  If you are divorced, however, all provisions in favor of your former spouse are revoked, including if you named your spouse as executor.

What if I want to skip over the estate administration process and just give my assets directly to my friends or family?

You may want to create a Trust.  Trusts under Wills are valid at death, and can be funded with assets from your estate.

Shouldn’t I just leave all my property to my spouse immediately at my death?

Many people do leave their entire estate to their spouse immediately at death.  However, there are a number of good reasons not to leave your spouse everything at once, such as: (i) tax planning; (ii) specific gifts of cash or property, such as family heirlooms and keepsakes, to identified persons; (iii) charitable gifts and bequests; (iv) an incapacitated spouse or a spouse who is not interested in finances or business management matters; or, (v) a second, or successive, marriage.

Could my estate become liable for my Executor’s debts?

No.  Though your Executor has control over your assets after you die, his / her creditors cannot get to your assets.

Does my Executor become liable for my debts?

Typically, your debts are separate from those of your executor.

Will my Executor be paid for its / their services?

Typically yes.  Corporate executors, such as banks and trust companies, will not serve without compensation. An individual acting as your executor could either:  (i) not get paid, (ii) could get paid as you designate, or (iii) could petition the clerk of court for compensation from your assets.

What is the Executor I name is either unwilling or unable to serve?

You can name multiple alternatives and, if non are named or none can qualify, the Court can appoint an Executor to manage your estate.

Who should be the executor of my Last Will and Testament?

Someone you trust with your assets, who (i) understands your wishes; (ii) is knowledgeable about your affairs; (iii) willing to serve as Executor; and (iv) who can work well with ALL of your beneficiaries.

What is the role of your Executor?

Your executor collects assets, pays debts and claims and distributes what remains of your estate to your named beneficiaries.

Are there limits on how many Wills I can make?

No.  You can make as many Wills as you like, but only one (usually the last one) will be valid.

Can I name the Guardian for my children in my Last Will and Testament?

Yes you can name a guardian for your minor children in your Will, and the court, while not bound by your choice, will pay close attention to whom you name.

Once I make a Will, can I make another Will or revise my current Will?

Of course you can.  As long as you are of sound mind, you can revise your Last Will and Testament any time you want.  If you have only a small change, you may want to make an amendment, called a Codicil, instead of creating an entirely new Will.

When does my Last Will and Testament become effective?

Your Last Will and Testament becomes effective ONLY at the time of you death.

What property does my Last Will and Testament NOT control?

Typically your Last Will and Testament does NOT control “non-probate” assets, unless paid to your estate.  “Non-probate assets” typically are assets, which transfer ownership by reason of the language in the contracts, or deeds, which create them, and often include Life insurance, Annuities, 401(k)s and IRAs, and jointly owned properties with rights of survivorship property, most commonly.

What property does my Last Will and Testament control?

Typically, your Last Will and Testament controls disposition of your “probate property” that includes: (i) any property of any type held or owned solely in your individual name, such as real estate, interests in partnerships, corporations, limited liability companies, and investments in public companies; and (ii) tangible personal property such as jewelry, furniture, cars, some collections, and similar assets.

Who can make a value Last Will and Testament?

ANYONE of sound mind – this is a far lower standard than the ability to make a binding contract – who is 18 years of age or older can make a Last Will and Testament.  You simply have to know (i) the natural objects of your bounty (usually next of kin); (ii) the nature and extent of your property, and, (iii) the manner and effect of giving property at death.

But if my property goes to my spouse and children anyway, why do I need a Last Will and Testament?

The property is not divided evenly between your spouse and children, and your spouse may receive far less than your children, regardless of your children’s ages.

If your children are under age 18 and the property going to them is worth over $1,500, the property will be controlled by a court-appointed Guardian until age 18 is reached.  At age 18, the property will be distributed to the child.

Doesn’t North Carolina law simply give all of my property to my spouse if I die without a Last Will and Testament?

Only if you die with no children or parents.

If you have children, the State would divide your estate among your children and spouse, regardless of your children’s ages.

If you have no children but a parent is still alive, the State would divide your estate between your spouse and parents.

Why should I have a Last Will and Testament?

If you do not write your Will, your property will pass according to the Intestate Succession Act, and may not pass:  (i) to the parties, (ii) in the amounts, and (iii) at the time you intend.

What are the requirements of a valid Last Will and Testament?

Testamentary Capacity – meaning the understanding of what you own and how you disposing of the same at your death.

Testamentary Intent – meaning a present intent to sign your Last Will And Testament

A writing, signed by the Testator, witnessed by two (2) disinterested witnesses; and properly notarized.

What is a Last Will and Testament?

A Last Will and Testament is the legal document that states where, how, and to whom you want your property to go at your death.

Living Wills (11)

Can I have both a Living Will and a Health Care Power of Attorney?

Yes.  If the two documents are inconsistent, your Living Will controls.

If I have a Health Care Power of Attorney, do I really need a Living Will?

The documents have two different purposes.  The Living Will allows you to indicate a choice, without leaving the choice exclusively to your Health Care Agent.  Often enough, making end of life decisions for ourselves is far easier than asking our loved ones to do so.  The Living Will relieves our loved ones from making these tough, emotional decisions.

Who determines if I am in a “persistent vegetative state”?

One or more of your treating physicians.  You may specify the particular physician who you would prefer to make this determination.

What is a “persistent vegetative state”?

A condition whereby the patient suffers from a nearly complete loss of brain function, which is irreversible.

What are “artificial nutrition” and/or “artificial hydration”?

The provision or receipt of food (nutrition) or water (hydration) via feeding tubes.

What are “extraordinary means”?

Medical means, procedure or interventions that serve only to postpone artificially the moment of death.  For example extraordinary means may mean a ventilator or other “life support,” to someone who is also determined to be terminal and incurable or in a persistent vegetative state.

What is a Living Will?

A Living Will, also known as an Advanced Care Directive, is legal document, through which an individual gives notice to medical providers and others of his or her desires and wishes relating to the withholding or discontinuance of extraordinary means or artificial nutrition or hydration in the event that his or her condition is diagnosed as terminal and incurable or he or she is determined to be in a persistent vegetative state.

Shouldn’t I just leave all my property to my spouse immediately at my death?

Many people do leave their entire estate to their spouse immediately at death.  However, there are a number of good reasons not to leave your spouse everything at once, such as: (i) tax planning; (ii) specific gifts of cash or property, such as family heirlooms and keepsakes, to identified persons; (iii) charitable gifts and bequests; (iv) an incapacitated spouse or a spouse who is not interested in finances or business management matters; or, (v) a second, or successive, marriage.

Does my Executor become liable for my debts?

Typically, your debts are separate from those of your executor.

Are there limits on how many Wills I can make?

No.  You can make as many Wills as you like, but only one (usually the last one) will be valid.

May I have both a Health Care Power of Attorney and a Living Will?

Yes, of course you may and both can be in the same document.  If the two documents are inconsistent, your Living Will controls.

Post-Separation Support and Permanent Alimony (14)

How much Alimony should I get?

This question is impossible to answer. There are no guidelines for alimony in North Carolina, so there is no way of predicting what the court would have done to set an alimony award if the case had gone to court.  Alimony awards of $300.00 – $500.00 per month are not uncommon, and some spouses who make a great deal of money could pay as much as $1,000.00 per month or more. Amounts above this figure are relatively rare. The best way to figure how much alimony a client needs is to calculate the difference between her reasonable monthly needs and her current net income, and then to compare this figure to the difference between her spouse’s income and his reasonable monthly expenses.  Her gap is “unmet needs” and should be equivalent (under ideal circumstances) to the “extra” money he has left over from his paycheck after he pays for his own reasonable monthly expenses. Since these “gaps” seldom exist in reality and everyone is usually spending a lot more than he or she is making, it is often a question of haggling, discussion, bargaining and horse-trading as to how much alimony should be paid in any individual case.

How do I know if I am entitled to Alimony?

Your attorney who prepares the separation agreement will explain alimony to you. In North Carolina, alimony is only granted by the court if: 1) you file a lawsuit requesting alimony; 2) you are the innocent or injured spouse; 3) you are financially dependent on the other party or in need of support from him/her; 4) your spouse is the supporting spouse; and 5) you can prove that the other party has committed acts that constitute a ground for alimony, such as adultery, abandonment, cruel and barbarous treatment, personal indignities (or “mental cruelty”), malicious turning out-of-doors, drug or alcohol abuse, and so on. An absolute defense to alimony exists when the parties have waived it in a separation agreement, when a divorce has been granted before an alimony claim is filed, or when the dependent spouse has committed adultery.

What should we do if we have agreed that no Alimony will be paid?

It is always best to set out such a term clearly in the agreement. Don’t just leave it out or let the agreement be silent on this issue.  A waiver of alimony is such an important term that it should be clearly spelled out in the agreement so that there is no misunderstanding.

When does Alimony end?

Alimony usually ends are at the death of either party or the remarriage of the payee/recipient (usually the wife). Sometimes clients have a provision added to the alimony terms in a separation agreement that alimony will also end at such time as the recipient starts living with an unrelated person of the opposite sex on a regular basis as if they were husband and wife.

Is Alimony tax-deductible?

If the agreement is drafted properly, alimony can be deductible for the payor and therefore taxable to the recipient. In order to be deductible by the payor, it must end at the recipient’s death. It is also acceptable to make the alimony nontaxable to the recipient if it is nondeductible for the payor.  This is a particularly important term and it should be spelled out clearly in the agreement how alimony payments will be treated for tax purposes.

What is the Alimony Recapture Rule and how can it affect me?

Basically the Alimony Recapture Rule speaks to a provision in the Internal Revenue Code that requires alimony be paid over more than three (3) years.  The purpose of this rule is to prevent parties from making large, lump sum property settlement payments snd disguising them as tax-deductible alimony.

In short, if alimony decreases substantially or terminates within the first three calendar years, the payer must “recapture” certain amounts previously deducted and report them as taxable income.  Conversely, the recipient will be allowed a tax deduction equal to the amount recaptured by the payer.

The Internal Revenue Code provides a specific mechanism for calculating amounts recaptured, and you can be assured that we will discuss relevant issues with you as they arise during your case.

Are Permanent Alimony payments taxable or tax-deductible?

Permanent Alimony payments made under an agreement designating the same as alimony, or under a court order designating the same as alimony, are taxable to the recipient and tax-deductible to the payer.

What impact could my dating have on post-separation support and alimony?

Illicit sexual behavior is marital misconduct and may be considered by the Court both in awarding Post-Separation Support and Permanent Alimony.  Only illicit sexual behavior occurring on or before the date of separation is relevant; however, the court may consider these post-separation acts as corroborative evidence of allegations of illicit sexual behavior before or on the date of separation.

I had an affair; does this impact my Post-Separation Support or Permanent Alimony?

Yes. If you had an extra-marital affair, and your husband did not, you are not entitled to an award of Permanent Alimony, even though you may be considered a dependent spouse in every sense of the definition.

Also, an extra-marital affair may be taken into account by the Court in deciding the issue of Post-Separation Support in your favor.  However, unlike Permanent Alimony, an extra-marital affair is not an absolute bar to a Post-Separation Support claim: it is simply a factor for the Court to consider when ruling on your claim.

My husband had an affair; does this impact my Post-Separation Support or Permanent Alimony?

Maybe.  If your husband is considered to be the supporting spouse, Illicit Sexual Behavior on his part may compel, or make mandatory, and order of Permanent Alimony.   But there are a few additional considerations on this topic.

If you knew, or found out about, the affair and took him back the court may find that you condoned and forgave the affair.  If this is the case, the court will not consider evidence of the affair when contemplating a Permanent Alimony award.

What if my Post-Separation Support or Permanent Alimony isn’t enough to cover my needs? Can we change or increase these amounts?

Either spouse may make a motion to increase or decrease a Post-Separation Support or Permanent Alimony amount at any time based upon a change of circumstances.  The law imposes particular requirements on proving changes in circumstances and typically this proof requires more than just a slight increase in one spouse’s income over that of the other spouse.   However, if Post-Separation Support or Permanent Alimony are being paid under a separation agreement, it may be designated as “non-modifiable” except in circumstances set forth in the agreement.

Who decides how much Post-Separation Support and Permanent Alimony is awarded?

Ideally, both parties can agree on an amount that supports the dependent spouse during separation and after divorce. When parents are able to agree on an amount there is no need for court. This often works best for everyone. When parties are unable to agree, a Family Court Judge will determine how much support must be paid. The judge will order the supporting spouse to pay Post-Separation Support and Permanent Alimony and this order is enforceable by contempt of court.

How much will I get or how much will I have to pay? Are there formulas for Post-Separation Support and Permanent Alimony like there are for CS?

The amount of Post-Separation Support or Permanent Alimony you may receive is wholly within the discretion of a Family Court Judge. A number of states follow various formulas for calculating spousal support.  These formulas typically take into account the length of the marriage, the parties’ income(s) and the amount(s) of other types of support ordered, such as CS.  North Carolina does NOT follow any set formula or calculating either PS or Permanent Alimony.

Am I entitled to Post-Separation Support or Permanent Alimony?

Maybe. Post-Separation Support and Permanent Alimony awards are essentially financial-needs based.   If you were substantially dependent on your husband’s income during your marriage, and he has the financial ability to pay spousal support, it is very likely that a court will order him to do so.

Separation and Property Settlement Agreements (25)

What is a Separation Agreement?

A separation agreement is a contract between a husband and wife when they separate from each other in which they resolve such matters as property division, debts, custody and support.

Do I have to have a Separation Agreement?

No law requires a separating couple to execute a separation agreement, but it is a wise idea if there are debts, children, support claims or property involved and the parties want to settle these matters in writing.

Who prepares a Separation Agreement?

It is best to have your own attorney prepare it for you. This should be a private attorney. A separation agreement is not valid in North Carolina unless both parties have signed and their signatures are notarized. Never try to prepare such a complex and important document yourself ­this is a job for a specialist.

Can we divide our property in a Separation Agreement?

Yes. A couple that is separating can agree on a division of property in their separation agreement, and that agreement will be binding on them.  The property to be divided consists of real property (land and the buildings on it), tangible personal property (cars, jewelry and furniture, for example) and intangible personal property (such as bank accounts, stocks and bonds, vested pensions and life insurance.) .

Does my spouse have to sign a Separation Agreement?

No.  An “agreement” means that both parties sign voluntarily. You cannot compel your spouse to sign a separation agreement or to agree to the terms you wish to impose on him or her in the agreement.

Does a Separation Agreement help me to get a Divorce?

A separation agreement is not “proof” that you have been living separate and apart from your spouse. It does not make divorce in North Carolina easier or more difficult to obtain. Other states may have different provisions in their laws which might make divorce faster or easier if there is a separation agreement.

Can our Separation Agreement settle who will get to claim the tax exemption for our children?

Yes.  The 1984 Tax Reform Act allows the parties to agree as to who can claim the children as exemptions for income tax purposes. Without a written separation agreement, the parent who has physical custody of a child for more than half the year will get the dependency exemption

What are the factors I should consider in transferring the dependency exemption?

Should the exemption be “traded”, instead of given, to the other parent–in exchange for an increase in child support?  Even a small increase in support would help offset the tax increase that will be paid by the custodial parent, and the other parent can better afford such an increase due to the taxes he or she saves by claiming the exemption on federal and state tax returns.

Should you alternate the exemption between parents? For example, the father could claim the exemption in even-numbered years (1990, 1992, 1994, and so on) and the mother could do so in odd-numbered years.  Or the father could claim one child and the mother could claim the other. Such alternation would lessen the impact of higher taxes on the custodial parent.

Should you condition the transfer on the other parent’s regular and full payment of support? Instead of transferring the exemption permanently without regard to payment of child support on time, some custodial parents agree to transfer of the dependency exemption only if the other parent is current (not in arrears) on child support payments by December 31 of each year.

Can I get my spouse for Contempt of Court if he breaks the promises in the Separation Agreement?

No. Contempt of court is the failure to obey a court order without legal justification. It is not contempt of court to violate a separation agreement unless the agreement has been made a part of court order. You may, however, sue your spouse for breach of contract if he violates the separation agreement.

Will a Separation Agreement free me from paying debts for which i have signed along with my spouse?

No.  A separation agreement is a contract between spouses. It cannot bind third parties (such as banks or finance companies) that have not signed it. If, however, your spouse promises to pay a bill and then breaks that promise, resulting in your having to pay, you can then sue your spouse for breach of contract for the amount of money you had to pay.

Will a Separation Agreement stop my spouse from hassling me?

While separation agreements usually have a nonharassment clause in them, you should understand that no piece of paper – be it agreement or court order–is going to stop a person from doing something he or she wants to do. If the problem is one of the physical violence, a court order would be better than a separation agreement and could be used to punish the wrongdoer if he or she violated the order. If there is only an agreement, a lawsuit for breach of contract is one possible remedy for breaking the promise of not bothering each other, but it probably isn’t a very effective remedy.

Is a court bound by Child Custody and visitation terms we include in the Separation Agreement?

No. The terms you include in your separation agreement for child support, custody and visitation can always be modified by the court in the best interest of the children. In the absence of proof to the contrary, however, there is a presumption that the terms concerning the children in your agreement are fair, reasonable and necessary for the best interest and welfare of the children.

Can the court modify the terms we include in a Separation Agreement concerning ourselves?

No.  Unlike Child Custody terms, the terms that pertain to adults cannot be modified by the court except in very limited circumstances. For example, if the separation agreement has been incorporated into a court decree, the court has the power in North Carolina to modify the support terms (alimony or child support) based on a substantial change of circumstances. If the terms involve property division and the agreement has been incorporated, the court can only modify an executory promise (i.e., one that has not yet been completed, such as the transfer next year of a car title to a spouse), as opposed to a promise which has already been executed by the parties (such as the deed to the house that was signed over to a spouse at the same time as the execution of the separation agreement). The court can overturn a separation agreement if it was signed due to fraud, coercion, or lack of mental capacity. In most cases, however, this is a hard case to prove.

Can we provide for college education of our children in a Separation Agreement?

Although a North Carolina judge cannot order you to pay child support for your child in college, you may make provision for college expenses in a separation agreement and it will become a binding, enforceable contract which the court can require each of you to perform. Since college is less of a luxury and more of a necessity these days, it would be a good idea to consider whether you want to provide in writing for college expenses in your separation agreement.

What points should we remember in our separation agreement about deciding about college expenses?

How long should the obligation last? 4 years?  4 1/2 years? Until the child attains age 23? Some termination point or date should be set in your separation agreement.

What costs will be covered? The usual ones are room and board, books, tuition and fees. Some parents also agree on a modest monthly allowance for spending money for the child.

What are the expenditure limits? Few parents want to agree to finance a college education for a child at any college or university. The cost of some private colleges and universities would bankrupt the average parent.  It is reasonable to put a ceiling or “cap” on the college expenses, such as by specifying that the maximum shall be “the then-prevailing rate for in-state tuition at State University” or some other nearby public institution. Such a provision is fair to everyone and does not force either parent to go broke financing a college education.

What other limits should be set? For example, some agreements state that the child must attend an accredited institution, in pursuit of a generally recognized undergraduate degree, on a full-time basis, while maintaining at least a “C” average

Should we provide for Alimony in our Separation Agreement?

Alimony is spousal support – it is money paid by one spouse to the other to help with food, shelter, transportation, clothing and other living expenses. It is not the same thing as child support. If the two of you have agreed on some measure of temporary or permanent alimony, you should definitely put that in the separation agreement.  Such a provision might state, for example, that the husband shall pay the wife alimony of $500.00 per month until he or she dies or until she remarries, or it could state that the wife shall pay the husband alimony of $100.00 per month for a total of four years, at which time it will terminate forever. These are just examples ­your attorney can advise you about the applicability of alimony in your particular case.

How should we divide our property in the Separation Agreement?

In North Carolina, there is a presumption that all property acquired during the marriage is divisible on a 50-50 or equal basis in a separation agreement. This is presumed to be fair. Other divisions, such as 60-40 or 75-25 are certainly legal if the parties agree that the division is fair and equitable. The property that is divisible in North Carolina is called marital property. With certain exceptions, this is anything acquired during the marriage. The exceptions are separate property, that is, property which cannot be divided by the court and belongs to only one party as his or her exclusive property. Examples of separate property are: 1) pre-marriage property; 2) gifts or inherited property; 3) non-vested pension rights; and 4) business or professional licenses.

Except for these items, everything else owned by either or both of the parties is marital property if it was acquired during the marriage. The title to the property – that is, whose name is on the deed or title – does not matter so long as it was acquired during the marriage and does not fit into one of the above exceptions.

What about pensions and retirement benefits – Are they divisible in a separation agreement?

Pensions and retirement rights can also be considered marital property. This type of property is often very valuable.  It is an important aspect of equitable distribution. A pension can only be considered marital property and divided if it is “vested” that is, there is a guaranteed entitlement that cannot be cut off. Your legal assistance attorney can give you specific advice about when a military or civilian pension is vested. Often a spouse’s pension is the most valuable asset of the entire marriage, and this should certainly be considered in doing a separation agreement. If there is to be no division, the agreement should say so.  If the decision on pension division is to be put off or deferred because there is no present agreement, that also should be stated clearly. Make sure your agreement is very specific and plain in this area as to your intent on dividing the pension – a poorly worded agreement may be challenged in court as vague and unenforceable.

How can a pension be divided in my separation agreement?

The division of pension rights in a separation agreement can be done in two ways: a present-value offset, or a future percentage of payments.  The former of these involves calculating the present value of the pension right now and setting it off (or trading it) against the value of another asset, such as the other spouse’s pension or the marital residence. The second approach would postpone the division until whenever the employed spouse starts receiving pension payments, at which time the nonpensioned spouse would receive a share of each check equal to one-half (or some other percentage) of the portion accrued during the marriage divided by the entire number of years of pension service.

How should we divide our debts?

There is no “right” answer to this question. In one case, the husband may take on payment for all the debts because his is the sole source of income in the family or because he created the debts in the first place. In another case, the wife may take over certain debt payments for things she charged or purchased or for things that she is being given in the property division. For example, if the husband is getting the station wagon and the wife is getting the washer and clothes dryer, it might seem fair that each should assume the debt payment for the items he or she is receiving in the separation agreement.

I want to make sure I can date after we our separation agreement is signed. Can I have my attorney put in a Dating Clause?

There is no such thing as a “dating clause” in a separation agreement that allows adultery. Any sexual relations with a person who is not your spouse is adultery, and so no “dating clause” will serve to make legal something that is illegal. Most separation agreements do, however, contain a clause that allows each spouse to be left alone as if single and unmarried, and forbids each spouse from harassing, molesting or interfering with the other.

Should we also provide for how we file for taxes in the separation agreement?

Yes, this is a very important provision in your separation agreement which can save you an your spouse a lot of money in taxes if prepared properly. A good example would be a clause that required the parties to file jointly so long as they are eligible to do so (usually up until the year they are divorced) and to divide the refund or liability for taxes in a specified way, such as 50-50, or 75-25, depending on the incomes of the parties.

Can a single attorney do the Separation Agreement for me and my spouse?

No single attorney can represent both Husband and Wife in a separation agreement. It is best to have two attorneys involved, one to advise each partner. In this way, the husband and the wife both know that they have received independent legal advice for their individual situation from a lawyer who does not have a conflict of interest in trying to represent two clients with different goals and needs.

Do we also divide our debts in the separation agreement?

You should set out a schedule for who pays what debt in your separation agreement, including the creditor’s name, account number, purpose of the debt, approximate balance and monthly payment amount. This will not stop the creditor from suing both of you if payments are not made by spouse and both of your names are on the obligation, but it allows you to ask the court to hold your spouse (and not you) accountable for the debt as set out in the agreement.

If I have other questions about Separation Agreement, what should I do?

Please consult a qualified family law practitioner or private attorney of your choice as soon as possible. Your lawyer can answer the many questions about your separation agreement and help you to make a fair and intelligent decision about your choices, options and alternatives. Our law office stands ready, willing and able to help you in these matters.

Divorce (3)

What is a Separation Agreement?

A separation agreement is a contract between a husband and wife when they separate from each other in which they resolve such matters as property division, debts, custody and support.

Do I have to have a Separation Agreement?

No law requires a separating couple to execute a separation agreement, but it is a wise idea if there are debts, children, support claims or property involved and the parties want to settle these matters in writing.

Can we divide our property in a Separation Agreement?

Yes. A couple that is separating can agree on a division of property in their separation agreement, and that agreement will be binding on them.  The property to be divided consists of real property (land and the buildings on it), tangible personal property (cars, jewelry and furniture, for example) and intangible personal property (such as bank accounts, stocks and bonds, vested pensions and life insurance.) .