What You Need to Know About 7 Steps to the North Carolina Divorce Process

The divorce process varies by state. Parties wishing to divorce in North Carolina must be privy to North Carolina laws and statutes on the divorce process. Here’s everything you need to know about the seven steps to the North Carolina divorce process.

North Carolina is a mixed state allowing no-fault and fault-based divorces. North Carolina laws require spouses to live separately for a full year before starting the divorce process.

Related: North Carolina Spousal Support Laws: Calculating Alimony

Resources for a North Carolina Divorce

North Carolina provides a divorce packet prepared by the North Carolina Equal Access to Justice Commission that might be helpful for some parties.

Divorce in North Carolina

North Carolina law refers to a legal divorce as an absolute divorce. North Carolina recognizes both no-fault and fault-based divorces.

No-Fault Based Divorce in North Carolina

In a North Carolina no-fault divorce, neither party claims the other spouse caused the marriage to fail. To qualify for a no-fault based divorce

in North Carolina, parties must have:

  • Lived in North Carolina for at least six months before the divorce filing,
  • Been legally married to the other party,
  • Lived separate and apart for at least one year before the divorce filing, and
  • No intention of continuing the marriage.

Related: North Carolina Adoptions Laws & Process

Fault Based Divorce in North Carolina

In a fault-based North Carolina divorce, individuals file for divorce because of the other spouse’s marital misconduct or serious medical condition. Reasons for such a claim include incurable insanity and divorce from bed and board. To receive a fault-based divorce, the claiming spouse must prove one of these reasons.

North Carolina No-Fault Divorce Process

These are seven steps parties can follow when beginning the North Carolina no-fault divorce process.

1. Separate from the other spouse

North Carolina law mandates parties to a cooling-off period before starting the no-fault divorce process. A party can only file a complaint about an absolute divorce after spouses live separately for a year and a day.

One spouse’s move-out date will start the cooling-off period but reconciling or moving back in together will reset the clock.

2. Negotiate for temporary custody and support and a property settlement agreement

If one spouse is dependent or has children, parties may need to set terms for child custody, visitation rights, child support, and spousal support during the separation period. Parties unable to reach a temporary agreement can file legal separation and ask a North Carolina family court judge to decide for them.

Many couples attend pre-divorce mediation to negotiate a property settlement agreement to decide on property division and any support payments after the divorce.

If parties resolve all their issues ahead of time, a divorce attorney may indicate in their initial complaint to speed up the divorce process.

3. File a complaint about a North Carolina absolute divorce

After the cooling-off period is complete, parties can file a Complaint for Absolute Divorce at the Clerk of Court’s office in the county where they live. Filing the complaint will start the legal divorce process.

4. Serve the other spouse with divorce papers

North Carolina law requires parties to serve their spouse with the divorce papers using one of the following methods:

  • Service by Sheriff,
  • Service by certified mail, with a return receipt requested,
  • Acceptance of service,
  • Or publication.

5. Then the process of discovery and information exchange begins.

Discovery allows each party’s attorney to ask questions and obtain documents to understand the family’s financial situation fully. This step is important because one spouse may control money and pay the bills.

6. Attend court-ordered mediation, if applicable.

In some cases, a North Carolina judge may require both parties to meet with a neutral mediator to resolve the case.

7. Then the divorce trial and absolute judgment of divorce occur

If parties cannot resolve their issues in mediation or informal negotiations, they will move to trial. Each party will present testimony, evidence, and arguments about their opinions on dividing marital property and handling child support, alimony, and child custody.

Once both parties present their case, a North Carolina judge will make a final ruling on each issue and enter an Absolute Judgment of Divorce.

Final Divorce Decree in North Carolina

A final divorce decree is the court’s formal order terminating the marriage. The decree proves a marriage ended. Parties who wish to remarry can use the decree to prove divorce.

FAQs about 7 Steps to the North Carolina Divorce Process

What is the difference between a contested and an uncontested divorce in North Carolina?

In an uncontested North Carolina divorce, the parties are not disputing property, child custody, or other issues. The couple has agreed on any divorce-related issues before going to court, and the court may grant the divorce during the court date.

A contested North Carolina divorce can take much longer than an uncontested divorce, as parties disagree on divorce issues. It may take months or longer for a highly contested divorce to settle.

How much does it cost to get an absolute divorce in North Carolina?

The filing fee for a North Carolina divorce is currently $225. Parties may pay an additional $30 for a North Carolina Sheriff to serve the defendant or $7 to serve the defendant by certified mail.

Parties who cannot afford these costs may qualify as indigent.

Contact Us

If you or a loved one would like to learn more about the North Carolina divorce process, get your free consultation with one of our divorce attorneys today!