How do I file for divorce? At the beginning of a marriage, most couples don’t anticipate finding themselves in a place where they have to ask that question. But life happens, and things can change. Couples grow apart. Sometimes, things simply turn out differently than planned. And that’s okay.
Reaching the point where you know that divorce is the right path forward isn’t easy – but it can be the beginning of a better and brighter chapter ahead. The question is, how do you get there? You may have arrived at our site wondering how to begin and how to take the first steps. That’s completely understandable. Let’s take a closer look at how to file for divorce in North Carolina and what that process entails.
Grounds for Divorce in North Carolina
Often, couples considering divorce wonder if there must be a “reason” from a legal perspective. The answer to that question is, fortunately, no. Historically, many states required a “legally acceptable” ground for divorce, which was typically some marital misconduct of one kind or another. In North Carolina, like the majority of states, this is no longer required.
Couples in North Carolina can now file for “no-fault” divorce. This essentially means that a couple can obtain a divorce for any reason – or no reason at all. You don’t need to disclose the “why” behind the divorce to proceed. Instead, a couple must only establish that they meet the eligibility requirements for a divorce. What are those requirements? Let’s take a closer look together.
A Closer Look at Eligibility Requirements
In North Carolina, two basic requirements must be met to file for divorce. These include:
- Residency: To file for divorce in North Carolina, at least one of the spouses must be a resident of North Carolina. This means that they have lived in the state as a resident for a minimum of six months directly leading up to the time of filing for divorce. The residency requirement seems straightforward – and for the most part, it is. However, it is essential to understand that a temporary stay in the state is not the same as permanent residency. It is necessary that the individual claiming residency must have demonstrated an intent to permanently reside within the state for at least six months before filing. Factors that may indicate intent include things like registering to vote, paying taxes, obtaining a North Carolina driver’s license, and other similar activities.
- Physical Separation: In North Carolina, a couple must live separately for at least one year prior to filing for divorce. Occasionally, we are asked whether this can mean living in separate rooms in the same house. Generally, the answer is no. Courts typically expect the spouses to live in separate residences and that at least one spouse is doing so with the intention of not resuming the marriage. The separation must be for twelve consecutive calendar months. If the spouses move back in with one another at any time during the twelve-month period or resume a marital relationship, the twelve-month period will reset.
If you can establish that you have satisfied these two criteria, you will be eligible to file for divorce in North Carolina. Although eligible, you won’t want to overlook an essential third step before actually making your filing – finding the right attorney. The importance of having the right attorney on your side as you begin this process can’t be overstated.
Often, those considering divorce wonder if they should represent themselves in order to save money. While that’s understandable, it’s almost always an incorrect assumption. The truth is that without an attorney, you may make costly mistakes that you later have to fix simply because you didn’t fully understand the law. You may also overlook an opportunity to assert important rights and fully protect yourself when it comes to the complex issues you will face during your divorce. These are mistakes you want to avoid making, and having the right attorney will typically save you a great deal of time and money in the long run.
After ensuring that you have met the necessary eligibility requirements and retained an attorney you trust to guide you through the process, you’ll officially be ready to file for divorce. At this point, your attorney will file the necessary paperwork with the clerk of court in your county of residence. This basically consists of a complaint, which sets forth not only the spouse’s intent to divorce but also sets forth the various issues to be addressed in the divorce, including matters like property division, child custody, child support, and others. It will also be necessary to pay a filing fee, which is usually around $225.
Although the actual filing process is relatively simple, it’s only one of many steps on a longer journey. Understandably, our clients often have many additional questions about what happens after the initial filing and what they can expect from the process. We’re here to help.
Understanding the Process
Like all complex processes, breaking the divorce process down into simple steps can make it easier to understand. In North Carolina, after filing the initial paperwork, a divorce generally follows a process that includes:
- Service upon the other spouse: After the initial paperwork is filed, it will be “served” upon the non-filing spouse. Service can happen in any number of ways, depending upon the rules of the particular jurisdiction. Sometimes, a law enforcement officer serves the papers, and in other cases, they are served by notice or certified mail, as only a few examples of many.
- A response: After receiving service, the other spouse will have a time period in which to respond to the complaint. This typically consists of filing an answer that briefly addresses the issues raised, in addition to raising any other matters that may be important.
- Discovery: During this stage of the case, the parties, through their attorneys, gather and exchange information that will be essential to resolve the matters that are at issue. This is also the stage where the parties truly begin to think through strategies and ideal outcomes as information is gathered and the issues become more apparent.
- Attempts at resolution: During this phase of the case, the parties will attempt to resolve their issues, ideally outside of a courtroom. When people picture divorce, they often imagine dramatic courtroom scenes where the attorneys fight over every issue. Fortunately, this is no longer the reality in most divorce cases. In fact, most divorce cases are now resolved almost entirely outside of the courtroom, using alternative dispute resolution methods like mediation, arbitration, and collaborative law. These methods often save time and money and reduce stress for everyone involved.
- A court hearing, if necessary: While it is true that many divorces are now resolved outside of the courtroom, this isn’t always the case. Sometimes, despite the best efforts of everyone involved, a divorce can’t be resolved outside of a courtroom. There may be many reasons for this, and in these cases, it’s best to let a judge decide the issues. The parties will present their arguments and evidence to the judge, and the court will ultimately render a decision after hearing each side of the case.
- Entry of order and final divorce decree: This is the last step of the divorce process. If the parties successfully address their issues outside of court and reach a resolution that works for all involved, they can enter into an agreement that a judge will then approve. Upon approval, the agreement will become official and final. If a court hears the case, it will enter an order containing all of its findings and directions to the parties after reviewing all of the evidence. The parties are required to follow the terms of their agreement or court order unless and until there is a subsequent modification by the court.
While it’s helpful to understand the typical phases of the divorce process, it’s also essential to remember that your case may differ in certain ways depending on your circumstances. For this reason and so many others, having the right attorney on your side is essential.
You need an attorney who knows and understands the law will be able to listen to your story, provide personalized advice and representation, and guide you through the process with the expert knowledge and skill that you need on your side. At The Law Office of Dustin McCrary, we’re here for you.
Call Us Today
Some law firms practice divorce part-time. They may occasionally work on divorce cases – but that isn’t the primary focus. That’s not the case for us. At The Law Office of Dustin McCrary, divorce is all we do. Why? Because we’re passionate about it. We understand what a difficult journey divorce can be – and we know how much easier that journey becomes when you have a trusted guide to help you along the way. That’s exactly what we strive to be. We understand every aspect of the divorce process and know the best strategies to help you achieve the best outcomes for your family and your future. Give us a call today. We look forward to speaking with you soon.