How to Obtain a Divorce in North Carolina
The divorce process can be complex and emotional. Many personal and financial considerations must be taken into account before a divorce can be finalized. In North Carolina, you can get a no-fault divorce if you have been separated from your spouse for at least one year. That means you have not lived together in the same home for that time. As long as you are eligible to divorce, you can obtain a no-fault divorce, even if your spouse does not agree to it.
You must file your divorce petition in the district court in the county where you or your spouse reside. Either you or your spouse must have resided in the state of North Carolina for a minimum of six months before filing for divorce.
Steps to Getting Divorced in North Carolina
To file for an absolute divorce in North Carolina, you will need to follow these steps:
Separate Before Filing for Divorce
To be eligible for a legal divorce in North Carolina, a married couple must first live apart for one year. This means one spouse or the other (or both) must live away from the marital home. If the couple reconciles, the calendar on the 12 months of separation restarts when they split up again. This applies to actually moving back in together, not just engaging in isolated marital relations.
A second requirement is that one party must have resided in North Carolina for at least six months prior to filing for divorce.
There is no requirement to establish marital fault to obtain a divorce. North Carolina is a “no-fault divorce” state.
However, if one spouse refuses to comply with the divorce proceedings, the other may seek a “divorce from bed and board,” which is a court-ordered separation. This order establishes separate residences for the purpose of separation, but it does not end the marriage.
To obtain a divorce from bed and board, one spouse must prove to the court that he or she has been mistreated or harmed by the other, such as by:
- Forced expulsion from the marital residence
- Intolerable humiliation
- Cruel and/or threatening treatment
- The other spouse’s substance abuse
Complete and submit a divorce complaint
You must fill out the required court forms and submit them to the Clerk of Court. Paperwork includes the Complaint for Absolute Divorce, Civil Summons, Domestic Civil Action Cover Sheet, and the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act Affidavit. You will also need to pay a fee. These specific documents must be sworn, filed, and approved to record the dissolution of a legal marriage.
A Complaint for Absolute Divorce is a type of lawsuit. If you want alimony or child support as part of your divorce, then you must state your demands in your divorce petition.
Some of the forms must be notarized. Many people do not realize that a notary public serves to authenticate the signature on a document and has nothing to do with the document’s content. It is important not to sign a document that must be notarized until you are in the presence of a notary public.
The forms needed to file for divorce may be obtained at any North Carolina county courthouse. A divorce attorney will have the forms and can help you complete them correctly (including acting as a notary public) and file them on your behalf.
There will be a fee to file your divorce claim unless you file a petition to sue as an indigent person and the court grants your petition.
Once the forms are completed and notarized as required, you’ll need to make three copies. One set must be filed with the Clerk of Court. You’ll need to retain a set, and the third will be served on your spouse by the County Sheriff’s Office.
Serve the complaint
After submitting the complaint, your spouse must be formally notified of the complaint. You are not permitted to serve the documents yourself. Your local sheriff’s department can serve the complaint or someone 18 years of age or older and not involved in your case. You could also mail the documents via certified mail.
Your spouse will have 30 days to file a response to your divorce petition, and then the matter will be scheduled for a hearing in the Family Law Court. Your spouse’s response may state his or her counter demands for relief.
Once the complaint has been served, you must wait 30 days for an initial hearing.
Request the hearing
After 30 days have passed, a hearing will be scheduled.
You will benefit from having the help of an experienced family law attorney to guide you through the filing process and represent you in court and in dealings with your spouse’s lawyer.
If you plan to pursue alimony or child support, your attorney can help you identify and gather the financial documents and other evidence needed to support your request for spousal support or child support.
Negotiate a Divorce Settlement
Once your request for a divorce becomes a legal filing, the work of dissolving your marriage often begins in earnest. Couples who are splitting up amicably may work on these issues during their year of separation. Regardless, this is when a calm, business-like attitude and solid legal guidance will serve you well.
There are decisions to make that can have far-reaching effects on you and your family for years to come about:
- Post-separation support and permanent alimony
- Equitable distribution of assets
- Child custody
- Child support
Your goal should be to come together with your spouse and lawyers that represent each of you to develop a fair and equitable separation agreement. A separation agreement is a contract that spells out the terms of your divorce.
North Carolina does not require divorcing couples to come to court with a proposed separation agreement. But without one, the judge must make the decisions that are necessary before granting your divorce.
It is the job of your divorce attorney to help you reach a separation agreement that meets your goals regarding your divorce. Before filing your divorce petition or responding to your spouse’s filing, your attorney will work with you to review the financial situations of you and your spouse, your children’s needs if you have underage children, and your needs and desires. Your attorney will also review any documents prepared by your spouse’s attorney and advise you as to their fairness and impact on you.
In some cases, a couple will work with a mediator to come to a settlement agreement. Mediators are trained and certified and work in a less adversarial manner to find solutions to unique situations. Your attorney would attend mediation sessions with you to advise you and protect your interests but would not play a leadership role.
If you go to court without a workable settlement agreement, the judge may order you to try mediation.
Testimony and the Judge’s Final Divorce Order
A family law judge will have the final say over your divorce. In an amicable divorce with a settlement agreement in hand, the judge need only review the paperwork, have each of you attest to your agreement with the various statements, and pronounce you divorced.
In a contentious divorce, each side presents their argument for each issue under oath, as well as any other evidence or testimony, and the judge decides each contested issue.
The judge will listen to both parties and their lawyers and in the end, will make decisions according to North Carolina law and what the court believes is best for each party and any children involved. If the judge decides property or possessions must be sold to ensure an equitable distribution of marital assets, the judge’s decision is final.
A judge’s final divorce order carries the weight of law and ends any further negotiations for terms of a divorce. Any settlement agreement would be incorporated into the judge’s order. If any party to a divorce decree violates its terms, he or she can be held in contempt of court and potentially sanctioned. However, any terms pertaining to child custody and child support can be modified whenever a court finds that they do not serve the best interest of the child.
How Long Does a Divorce Take in North Carolina?
Many factors contribute to the length of a divorce case. You and your spouse must live in separate households for 12 months with the intent to be permanently apart before you are eligible for an absolute divorce in North Carolina.
If a divorce is contested or a couple cannot agree on significant issues such as child support, alimony, and property division, the divorce may take much longer.
Cost of a Divorce in North Carolina
There is no set cost for obtaining a divorce in North Carolina, but many variables may affect the final amount that you’ll pay. In North Carolina, the filing fee for a divorce is $225, though this fee can be waived in certain circumstances.
There is an additional $10 fee for filing a Resumption of Maiden Name. However, that fee could be waived for indigent filers if approached through a Petition to Proceed as an Indigent. You may need to pay $30 to have a sheriff’s office serve the complaint to your spouse.
In addition to court fees, you will pay legal fees to the attorney who handles your divorce. While many people worry about the cost of hiring a lawyer, the cost of representing yourself in a divorce can be much more costly in the long run as a result of unintended consequences. An attorney can help you consider the financial consequences of the decisions you need to make as part of the divorce and the equitable distribution of marital assets.
Marital disputes can be time-consuming, and the longer they get drawn out, the more money you will spend. A seasoned divorce attorney in North Carolina can help you resolve disputes in mediation so that you don’t have to spend precious time and money litigating the issues in court.