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Domestic Relations – Equitable Distribution – Pleadings – Prior to Separation – Subsequent Answer

Domestic Relations – Equitable Distribution – Pleadings – Prior to Separation – Subsequent Answer

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Eubanks v. Eubanks (Lawyers Weekly No. 012-093-16, 11 pp.) (Linda Stephens, J.) Appealed from Mecklenburg County District Court (Gary Henderson, J.) N.C. App. Unpub.

Holding: The defendant-husband’s counterclaim for equitable distribution (in response to the plaintiff-wife’s complaint for divorce from bed and board) was filed before the parties were legally separated, and the wife voluntarily dismissed her later, timely-filed equitable distribution claim. Nevertheless, the husband’s answer to the wife’s equitable distribution claim (1) admitted that “during the marriage of the parties they acquired property and debt subject to equitable distribution”; (2) requested “relief as set forth in [the husband’s original] Answer, Defenses and Counterclaims” for, among other things, equitable distribution; and (3) asked the court to deny the wife’s request for an unequal division in her favor. Therefore, the trial court had jurisdiction to equitably distribute the parties’ property.

We affirm the trial court’s equitable distribution order.

No magic language is required to state a valid claim for equitable distribution so long as the claimant’s pleading is sufficiently clear to put the opposite party on notice that the claimant is asking the court to enter an order distributing the parties’ assets in an equitable manner. The wife had ample notice of the husband’s intention to assert a claim for equitable distribution of the parties’ marital property. Therefore, in light of N.C.R. Civ. P. 8 and our state’s approach to notice pleading, we conclude that the husband’s answer to the wife’s supplemental complaint sufficiently stated a claim for equitable distribution, which – despite the wife’s subsequent dismissal of her own claim – the trial court explicitly preserved in its judgment of absolute divorce.


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