How Do Oral Stipulations Impact Equitable Distribution?

Any divorce is a complex matter. A person who used to be a teammate is suddenly an adversary.

One of the legal issues that may arise during divorce proceedings is oral stipulations. An oral stipulation is one way that the parties can agree to resolve some of the issues and disputes that are present in the case.

What are oral stipulations in a North Carolina divorce?

In a North Carolina divorce, oral stipulations are agreements that the parties make during the case. An agreement may establish a fact that the parties do not dispute. It may also determine the distribution of an item of property.

How do you make an oral stipulation in a North Carolina divorce?

For an oral stipulation to be valid in a North Carolina divorce, the following must occur:

  • The court must read the terms of the stipulation to the parties
  • Each party must affirm that they understand the legal effect of the agreement
  • Each party must state that they understand the terms of the agreement
  • Spouses must agree to abide by the terms of the stipulation by their own free will

The inquiry must be made at the time the stipulation is entered.

What are North Carolina’s divorce stipulation laws?

North Carolina G.S. § 50-20(d) says that the court may distribute marital property in a manner that the parties determine is equitable. The parties may create a written agreement to distribute marital property. If properly executed, the agreement is binding on the parties. Stipulations may also be made orally on the record at a court proceeding.

What is the purpose of an oral stipulation in equitable distribution?

The purpose of an oral stipulation in equitable distribution is to narrow the issues disputed before the court. Stipulations shorten, simplify and settle litigation. They allow the parties to control determination of some issues rather than leave it to the court.

There are safeguards in place to ensure that stipulations are made freely and fairly. However, when procedures are followed, oral stipulations help the court arrive at an equitable distribution and resolve litigation in an efficient manner.

Are oral stipulations binding?

Once a stipulation is made, whether written or oral, it is binding on the parties. Fraud or mutual mistake may be grounds to declare a stipulation invalid. (Lawing v. Lawing, 81 N.C. App. 159 (1986).)

Can a stipulation be in writing in a North Carolina divorce?

In addition to oral stipulations, parties can make written stipulations in a North Carolina divorce. Stipulations made in writing must be executed and acknowledged. When correctly submitted, both written and oral stipulations are valid and binding.

Can oral stipulations be made outside of court?

For an oral stipulation to be valid, it must be made in court and on the record. Oral agreements between parties made outside of court are not enforceable.

Can the parties enter into a stipulation for child custody?

The court must determine the best interests of the children when it decides child custody. The parents may present the court with a stipulated consent order for child custody. The court may enter the order if it will best promote the interest and welfare of the child. (N.C. G.S. § 50-13.2)

  • Parents cannot eliminate future child support obligations using a prenuptial or stipulated agreement eliminating future payments. Children have the right to financial support from each of their parents.
  • Even if parents agree to child custody at the time of a divorce, a party may move to modify custody and visitation if circumstances change in the future.

Can an oral stipulation be made about legal issues?

It is the court’s duty to interpret the law. The parties cannot stipulate as to how the law applies to a specific issue or legal question. Courts have the authority to determine and apply the law. The parties may stipulate facts and the distribution of property through oral stipulations.

How long does an oral stipulation continue in effect once it’s entered?

Once a stipulation is entered and is determined to be valid, it is in force for the full duration of the divorce proceedings. (See Smith v. Smith, 786 S.E.2d 12 (N.C. Ct. App. 2016). In Sharp v. Sharp, 116 N.C. App. 513 (1994), the court upheld a stipulation about the value of real property two years later, even when one party wanted to present an argument that the stipulation was no longer correct.

Why enter oral stipulations in a divorce proceeding?

An oral stipulation may be an efficient way to resolve specific divorce proceedings. During a court hearing or trial, it may be used to quickly enter an agreement into the record and make it binding. As evidence is presented at a hearing or trial, oral stipulations can help the proceedings move forward and resolve issues that are not contested.

The courts prefer written stipulations, but there may still be situations where an oral stipulation is appropriate. When used, the court and the parties should be sure that procedural requirements are followed.

If the parties stipulate equitable distribution, does the court consider the distributional factors of N.C. G.S. § 50-20(c)?

If the parties stipulate an equitable distribution of the property, the court may no longer consider the distributional factors of N.C. G.S. § 50-20(c) to alter the distribution. (See Miller v. Miller, 97 N.C. App. 77 (1990).)  Where parties stipulate, the trial court should follow the stipulation unless set aside for an allowable reason. In addition, stipulations are binding on appeal. (Wall v. Wall, 140 N.C. App. 303 (2000).)

Attorneys for oral stipulations in equitable distribution

Oral stipulations can be a helpful tool to reaching a favorable result in your divorce proceeding. It’s important to understand how they can help you and what must be done to make them effective and binding.

Our divorce attorneys can help you use oral stipulations effectively and create a comprehensive plan to pursue your divorce case. Contact us today for a consultation about your case.


Are consultations free?

While we offer a free consultation on traffic matters, criminal matters, and most professional license defense cases, we charge a fee for family law consultations to personalize our consultations to your specific needs. To learn about our fee structure, please get in touch.

Where can I get legal advice?

We recommend meeting with an attorney. While there is free legal help available for North Carolina residents from pro bono resources for civil matters, and public defenders for criminal cases, the best way to access tailored advice is to hire a lawyer.

Can I hire you if I’m in another state?

This is done on a case by case basis if you are involved in a family law, criminal, or professional disciplinary matter that involves another jurisdiction.



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