How To File For Divorce In North Carolina

You may have arrived at this page because you feel that your marriage has reached its end. Sometimes this happens suddenly – in other cases, it is a resolution reached after a long time and a great deal of thought. Regardless of what has led you to this point, however, once you’ve made a decision, you may wonder how to move forward. It’s a reasonable question to ask.

Divorce can be a complex process in many ways. The good news though is that like many complex processes, it begins with one step – and then another, and then another. Finding the right attorney to guide you through those steps effectively, and with the knowledge and expertise you need on your side, will be essential. So – what are those steps? How do you file for divorce in North Carolina?

The quick and simple answer to this question is that the actual act of “filing” for divorce is a simple one. It consists of paperwork, fees, and submissions to the clerk’s office in the county where you live. As most people know though, the complete process of filing for divorce consists of much more than that. Ultimately, divorce is a journey. It’s a process that you’ll have to go through step by step, to reach a better chapter ahead at the end. Let’s take a closer look at those steps, and some commonly asked questions together.

Do I Need a “Reason” to Get Divorced?

This is an understandable and commonly asked question. In most states, in the past, a party seeking a divorce needed a “reason” – that is, some sort of “fault” or “wrong” committed by the other party. In most states today, this is no longer the case.

Like many states, North Carolina is a “no-fault” divorce state. This means that neither party has to prove that any sort of marital misconduct occurred in order to obtain a divorce, or that either of the spouses was somehow “to blame” for the end of the marriage. Instead, in North Carolina, grounds for divorce are essentially that the couple has lived separately and apart for at least one year, and that at least one party must have resided in North Carolina for at least six months before filing for divorce.

Physical and Legal Separation

North Carolina law requires that a couple live separately for at least a year, with at least one of them having the intention for the separation to be permanent. Once a couple is “legally separated,” they must remain apart for a full year before being eligible to be officially divorced. While this may seem like a longer time than those who are eager to move forward might hope, the good news is that there are legal options available for those who need help in the meantime. In fact, under North Carolina law, a legally separated spouse may obtain temporary orders for:

  • Child custody during the pending proceedings;
  • Child support during the legal separation;
  • Post-separation spousal support; and
  • Asset division, if necessary.

After living separate and apart for the requisite length of time, the parties will be ready to move forward with the other necessary steps of the divorce process.

File a Divorce Complaint with the Clerk of Court in Your County

This is the official “filing” part of the divorce process. It typically consists of drafting a complaint, with the assistance of your attorney, setting forth your case. The complaint will usually include any requests for spousal support or property division or custody matters, at least on a basic level. These matters will all be addressed and resolved in more depth as the case moves forward.

Along with the official divorce complaint, you’ll also file an affidavit advising the court whether or not your spouse is in the military (as special legal rules will apply if so), a summons (the document “summoning” your spouse to the case), and a civil action cover sheet. These documents can be filed in the county where you live or the county where your spouse lives.

Along with the documents, a filing fee will be required, which may vary by local jurisdiction. Once the papers are filed and “served” upon your spouse, the divorce process will officially be underway.

Work with Your Spouse and Attorneys to Attempt to Resolve Your Issues

This is the central part of the divorce process. At this stage, the parties and their attorneys work together to attempt to address and resolve the various issues between them. Sometimes, those unfamiliar with the divorce process envision a contentious battle played out in a courtroom where the parties fight endlessly about every issue. The good news is that in the huge majority of divorces today, this is simply not the case. In fact, the truth is that the majority of divorce cases are now resolved outside of the courtroom, using methods like mediation, collaborative law, arbitration, or lawyer-led settlement negotiations.

Ultimately, choosing these out-of-court methods of resolution allows the parties more freedom and flexibility to address the issues that matter most in the way that works best for their particular circumstances. After all, you know your family best – even the most well-intentioned judge will not understand your family dynamic and your unique needs better than you do.

Additionally, resolving your issues outside of the courtroom typically saves time and extra expense, and avoids a great deal of stress. Paying attorneys to battle over every issue in a courtroom can be exhausting and expensive. When possible, cooperation and collaboration is the way to go. Together, you and your spouse can craft an agreement that addresses all of your issues. If you’re able to do so, all you’ll need to do is have your agreement approved by the court. Once that’s been accomplished, you’ll be ready to move forward toward a better and brighter chapter ahead.

Seek Court Intervention if Necessary

While addressing all of your issues outside of the courtroom is ideal, the truth of the matter is that in some cases, this simply isn’t possible. There may be any number of reasons for this. Sometimes, one or both spouses are still too emotional to think clearly and negotiate effectively. In other cases, one spouse may be mentally unwell. In still other cases, there is a power dynamic in the relationship that hinders effective cooperation.

Whatever the reason, the truth is that sometimes, litigating a divorce in court truly is the best option. In this case, the parties will work with their attorneys to organize and present their evidence and make their best arguments to the court. After reviewing all of the evidence presented, a court will enter an order outlining its findings and directives, which will become binding on the parties.

Obtain an Official Divorce Decree

Regardless of how the issues are ultimately resolved between a couple, whether by agreement outside of court or by court order, the final step of the process will be the same. The court will ultimately enter a decree of divorce, and at that point, the parties will be officially divorced and can begin truly moving forward with their lives.

Although the process may be lengthy and complex at times, the goal is  to reach this point with optimism and hope for a better chapter ahead. To do so, it will be essential to have the right attorney on your side, guiding you through the process each step of the way. Doing so can make all the difference between a smooth divorce process, or a stressful one.


Call The Law Office Of Dustin Mccrary Today

Divorce is difficult. There’s no question about it. The good news, however, is that it can also be the beginning of a better brighter chapter ahead. It may be hard to see that in the moment, but many of our previous clients can confirm that it’s true. To get to that next chapter, though, you have to go through the process – and to do that, you need an attorney with knowledge, experience, and compassion. You need an attorney who will meet you where you are and walk with you each step of the way. At The Law Office of Dustin McCrary, we are passionate about helping each and every one of our clients navigate the best path forward toward a new beginning, and we would be honored to help you too. Give us a call. We look forward to speaking with you soon.

We’ll meet you right where you are.

You can trust our compassionate expertise to help you navigate the legal and emotional difficulties of divorce.

Where clients are neighbors, not numbers.