Financial Fault in North Carolina Property Division

Traditional marital fault, such as abandonment or adultery, does not matter when the judge divides marital assets in North Carolina. Generally speaking, equitable distribution of marital property is strictly a math calculation, similar to a business transaction. There is a very strong policy for the courts to divide the marital estate equally unless there is some special reason why the marital assets are not equally divided. Although marital fault does not apply in property cases, the court may consider financial fault. When one spouse wants more than 50% of the marital property, he or she has the burden of proving a special reason or factor applies.

What Counts?

Sometimes, the same behavior that is considered marital fault is also coincidentally the same behavior that constitutes financial fault. Some of the special reasons (called factors) the judge can consider when deciding whether to divide marital property unequally based on financial fault include:

(1.)  Acts to maintain, preserve, develop, or expand marital property.

(2.)  Acts to waste, neglect, devalue or convert the marital property.

(3.)  Any other factor the court decides is just and proper.


A spouse can argue the first two reasons listed above would apply when the other fails to maintain and repair a residence or other property, changing title of property to someone else trying to conceal it, or mismanagement of assets. Another situation falling into the category is a spouse hiding debts and the unintended consequences that impact the other spouse. Spouses may find out too late that the other must file bankruptcy on joint debts, leaving him or her holding the bag for those debts, or that there are lawsuits that could result in judgments that may be liens on the family home in some cases. Another situation allowing a judge to consider giving one spouse more than 50% of the marital estate is when one can’t pay a marital debt and the other intentionally refuses to pay the marital debt, such as a mortgage, and perhaps choosing to let a home go into foreclosure rather than have it awarded to the other spouse.

The Catchall

The last reason above, labeled “any other factor,” can be anything the judge determines is important after hearing evidence from both sides. This is a catchall for a party to ask the court to divide the marital assets unequally. Although it is not specifically listed by the statute, gambling away substantial marital savings could be an example of financial fault. One North Carolina Court of Appeals case found financial fault when the wife removed truckloads of marital property from the marital home immediately before they split. Another case found it when the husband was in a bigamous marriage and had a secret family. When someone spends substantial money buying a significant gift for the person with whom he or she is having affair can be financial fault, as well as marital fault.

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