How to Get Divorced in North Carolina
Each divorce is as unique as the marriage that precedes it, but there are specific steps to getting a divorce in North Carolina. Below, we outline the steps to obtain a divorce. Either spouse can file for divorce in North Carolina for any reason after the couple has lived separately for at least one year.
A divorce petition is technically separate from issues such as child custody, child support, spousal support (alimony), or equitable distribution of marital assets. A couple may address all these issues in a separation agreement negotiated as part of the divorce process. If there are disputed issues that the couple cannot resolve, then the issues may be presented to the Family Law Court to decide.
The divorce attorneys of Younce, Vtipil, Baznik & Banks have helped many people in Raleigh and throughout Wake County work through the issues of separation and divorce. Ending a marriage is an emotional experience. It’s helpful to have trusted guidance. Our knowledgeable attorneys can guide you through the process and help you consider all the issues that must be addressed as part of a separation and divorce. We have staff fluent in both English and Spanish to serve our diverse community.
These are the steps to follow to obtain a divorce in NC
1. Separation Required Before Filing for Divorce in North Carolina
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
2. File a Complaint for Absolute Divorce
Obtaining a divorce requires a court order. There are specific documents that must be sworn, filed, and approved to record the dissolution of a legal marriage. To file for divorce, one spouse must submit to the Clerk of Court in the county where they live the following documents:
- Complaint for Absolute Divorce
- Domestic Civil Action Cover Sheet
- Civil Summons
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. Most divorce notices are delivered by 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.
3. Negotiate a North Carolina 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.
Contact a Raleigh, NC, Divorce Lawyer Today
Divorce in North Carolina is a complex legal process that is different in each case depending on the splitting couple’s needs and desires, and often the children and marital assets involved. Once you are sure that your marriage cannot be saved, you should contact an experienced Raleigh divorce lawyer to help you understand North Carolina’s divorce process and the steps you will need to take.
When you enlist the help of Younce, Vtipil, Baznik & Banks, an experienced family law attorney can move quickly to protect your financial interests, custody rights, and other interests. Our family law attorneys devote their entire practice to dealing with matters involving divorce and family law.
If you are headed for divorce, you can seek experienced and skilled legal representation. Contact the Raleigh divorce attorneys at Younce, Vtipil, Baznik & Banks to schedule a confidential consultation about your rights and legal options for a divorce that meets your priorities and goals.