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Divorce in NC: Divorce and Legal Separation FAQs

Navigating the complexities involved with the divorce process can be daunting to those considering or going through a divorce. Cordell & Cordell’s North Carolina men’s divorce attorneys provide answers to frequently asked questions about divorce laws, legal separation, and the divorce process in North Carolina.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the grounds for divorce in North Carolina?


In North Carolina, the grounds for divorce are that the couple must have lived separate and apart for one year and that one party must have resided in North Carolina for six months prior to the filing of the action.

You can also apply for divorce on the basis of incurable insanity. This ground is not often used due to the fact that you have to live separate and apart for three years and you need proof of incurable insanity.

Related Article: The No-Fault/Fault-Based Divorce Debate

How much does a divorce cost in NC?

There is really no way to determine how much a divorce is going to cost. The cost of filing an Absolute Divorce action in North Carolina is $75. You also need to factor in the costs of serving the other party and filing the other necessary documents with the court, as well as the additional cost associated if you are seeking a name change.

Related Article: The Million-Dollar Question: How Much Will My Divorce Cost?

How long does a divorce take in NC?

Once the divorce is served to your spouse, there is a 30 day waiting period before the divorce can be finalized. In general, it takes at least 45-90 days to get divorced.

Do I really need to hire an attorney?

At least in Mecklenburg County, hiring a lawyer is not essential. The self-serve center has forms that individuals can fill out and apply for a divorce. However, you should see a lawyer prior to filing for divorce to make sure there are no other viable claims that you wish to pursue.

In North Carolina, if you are granted a divorce (i.e. the judge signs the divorce papers) then your claims for alimony and equitable distribution are barred. You need to consult with a lawyer to make sure that you understand your rights on the issues of alimony and equitable distribution prior to filing for divorce.

Related Article: Do I Need To Hire A Divorce Attorney?

Does North Carolina grant divorces based on marital fault?

North Carolina is a no-fault divorce state. North Carolina does consider fault in other circumstances however (i.e. divorce from bed and board and alimony).

Related Article: The Pros And Cons Of At-Fault Divorce

How is spousal maintenance determined during a NC divorce?

In a divorce action alone, it is merely the legal ending of your marriage.  An Absolute Divorce action does not decide the issue of maintenance. If you want to add the claims for post-separation support and alimony, you can, but an Absolute Divorce action alone is not enough.

In North Carolina, alimony and post-separation support are based on whether you can prove that you and/or your spouse are dependent and whether you and/or your spouse are considered the supporting spouse. A family law attorney would have to look at the facts of every case to determine whether or not support is a viable claim.

Related Article: Will I Have To Pay Alimony?

Can I change my name at the time of divorce in NC?

Yes, you can change your last name at the time of divorce. The filing fee for a name change is $10. You can file the resumption of a former name within the divorce or subsequent to the divorce.

Related Article: Can I Force My Ex-Wife To Change Her Last Name?

Can I get an annulment instead of a divorce in North Carolina?

There are only a certain limited circumstances in North Carolina that would enable a party to obtain an annulment. If the parties are nearer in relation than first cousins or between double cousins, you may petition the court for an annulment. If one of the parties were married and are less than 16 years of age then an annulment can be considered, if there is no child or the female is not pregnant with child.

Additionally, if either party is already married (i.e. bigamy) or if either party is impotent at the time of marriage, annulment can be considered. Further, if one of the parties to the marriage were incapable of agreeing to marry (i.e. coercion or do not understand) then an annulment may be obtained.

Finally, if a female lured the male into marriage by stating that she was pregnant; the parties separated within 45 days of marriage; and have been separated for one year then the male can obtain an annulment if a child has not been born within 10 lunar months of the date of separation.

It is important to speak to an attorney about the specifics of your case to determine whether or not an annulment is a viable option.

Related Article: How Can A Marriage Be Annulled?

What is legal separation in NC?

Legal separation in North Carolina, requires spouses to live separately from each other and intend to remain separated or pursue a divorce.

How long do you have to be separated in North Carolina to get a divorce?


Yes. According to NC divorce laws, in order to file for an Absolute Divorce you must wait until you and your spouse have been separated for one year and one party must have resided in North Carolina for six months prior to the filing of the action.

Related Article: I’m In A Hurry: How Fast Can I Get Divorced?

What is a separation agreement in NC?

A separation agreement is a contract that husband and wife can sign that formalizes their separation and provides a plan for the separation period for taking care of children and other shared responsibilities. A separation agreement is not required for a divorce but can be helpful in avoiding many of the problems that arise during a divorce hearing.

How do you prove legal separation in NC?

Proving separation during a divorce in NC can be done a number of different ways. Most commonly, proof is provided by showing bills or other documents that show separate payments and residences during the separation needle.

Can I date while legally separated in NC?

Yes, once spouses have legally separated, both parties are free to date during the separation period.

When is my NC divorce case going to be over?

There is no way to tell when the case will be over.  Once you file the complaint, the other party has thirty days in which to respond, and they can be granted an extra thirty days if necessary. After that time, you can schedule a hearing in front of the judge to hear the divorce. If the divorce is uncontested then it can be obtained fairly quickly.

Contested divorces (i.e. a fight over whether you have been separated for a year) can take longer. Also, if you are petitioning for a divorce due to incurable insanity, it can take longer based on the fact that you must prove that spouse is insane and thereby testimony from medical professionals may be required.

Related Article: How long can a divorce case remain open?

Do I have to go to court for an NC divorce?

It depends. In some counties in North Carolina, there is the opportunity to get divorced without going to court. In Mecklenburg County, for example, as long as all the procedures have been met (i.e. six-month residency, one-year separation, service of the opposing party, and no issues of material fact), you do not have to show up for court.

In other counties, the court takes the testimony of at least one of the parties to determine whether an Absolute Divorce is appropriate.

Related Article: Why It Pays To Settle Your Divorce Out Of Court

If attempts to serve my spouse do not work, what is my next step?

If attempts to serve your spouse prove unfruitful, the next step is to serve by publication. If you are unable to serve the spouse by personal delivery, registered or certified mail, or by a designated delivery service (i.e. FedEx), then you need to try service by publication as a last resort.

Service by publication means putting a notice in the local paper where you believe your spouse is residing or, if that is unknown, in the county where the action is pending. You must put the notice in the paper once a week for three consecutive weeks. Upon publication, you then file an affidavit with the court stating the publication and the circumstances warranting the use of service by publication.

Related Article: Serving Divorce Papers To A Missing Spouse

How long after a divorce can you remarry in North Carolina?

Until the judge signs the Divorce Judgment, you are not free to marry. Once the parties are separated, you are free to start dating, but dating prior to divorce may set you up for further possible exposure. Your spouse could use the fact that you are now dating someone to corroborate the fact that you were dating him or her prior to separation (i.e. adultery).

Related Article: How Soon Can You Remarry After Divorce?

What if my spouse does not want the divorce?

In North Carolina, divorce can be obtained whether or not both parties want a divorce. As long as you have been separated a year and one of the parties has been a resident of North Carolina for six months prior to the filing of the action, then you can obtain a divorce. Consent by both parties is not necessary in North Carolina.

Related Article: Collaborative Divorce vs. Contested Divorce

Do issues like child support, child custody, alimony, and property have to be decided before the divorce is final?

In North Carolina, support, custody, alimony and property do not have to be decided before the divorce is final. However, if you want to preserve your claim to alimony and equitable distribution, you need to file these claims with the court prior to the Judgment of Divorce is granted.

If the judge signs the divorce prior to you asserting either of these claims, you will be barred from later bringing these claims in front of a judge. Both equitable distribution and alimony do not have to be decided prior to a Judgment of Divorce, they merely have to be pending.

Is NC a 50/50 divorce state?

North Carolina is a 50/50 divorce state. In NC, splitting up the marital property 50/50 is considered equitable and fair. However, NC divorce laws consider many factors that typically indicate a need for an unequal marital property division, in which case a 50/50 distribution would not be fair.

What is a spouse entitled to in a divorce in NC?

A spouse is typically entitled to some amount of alimony or spousal support, depending on the decision of the NC divorce courts. A spouse may also be entitled to a 50/50 split of marital property if so decided by the courts.

How are assets divided by North Carolina divorce laws?

In NC divorces, assets are typically divided by equitable division (which could be a 50/50 distribution of assets if that is considered equitable). In some cases, courts divide assets by community property division (where both spouses get ownership).

How long do I have to live in North Carolina to obtain a divorce?

In North Carolina, one party has to reside in North Carolina for six months prior to the filing of the complaint. Therefore, as long as your spouse lives in North Carolina for six months and intends to remain in North Carolina, you do not have to live in North Carolina to obtain a divorce.

After I file for divorce, do I have to continue to live in North Carolina?

It depends. If both parties live in North Carolina and the other party stays in North Carolina, then you can leave the state and still have North Carolina retain jurisdiction over the divorce. If both parties reside in North Carolina, but different counties and you (as the plaintiff) leave the state, your spouse could petition the court to remove the case to the county where he/she resides.

Related Article: What Is The Residency Requirement For Filing For Divorce?

What if I am in the military and out of state?

In North Carolina, you can still file for divorce. The requirement for jurisdiction in North Carolina only requires that one party reside in North Carolina for six months. You just need to file the divorce in the county where your spouse resides. North Carolina can still retain jurisdiction even if you are stationed out of the state.

Related Article: Divorce residency requirements for active duty military

What forms do I need to file for a divorce in North Carolina?

In order to file for divorce in NC, you need a completed summons and a completed and verified complaint. In addition, there is a fee that needs to be paid to the Clerk of Court. Please keep in mind there are additional forms that are required after the divorce has been filed (i.e. a Judgment of Divorce).

Related Article: What Legal Information Do You Need To File For Divorce?

How do I file for divorce in NC?


The complaint is filed with the Clerk of Court once the form is completed and the required fee is paid. The complaint merely states what you are asking and why (i.e. an Absolute Divorce, the fact that the parties have been separated one year, and one of the parties has lived in North Carolina for at least six months).

In the complaint you must also state whether or not there are children born to the marriage. If there are, you need to list their names in the complaint. Along with the complaint is the summons, which has the other party’s address on it. The summons merely states to the other party that an action has been filed against them and they are required to answer.

You need to make sure that you have additional copies of the summons and the complaint. While the court keeps the original, you need extra copies to be able to serve the opposing side with the documents, as well as a copy for your records.

Also, if you believe service is going to be an issue, I would make sure you have plenty of summons (at least four extra) signed by the Clerk of Court. That way, you have multiple originals to attempt service. While you only need a copy of the complaint, you need an original summons to be given to the opposing party upon service.

Related Article: What To Know When Filing For Divorce

How do I serve the NC divorce complaint on my spouse?

In North Carolina, you first try to serve the complaint along with the summons by sheriff. If your spouse resides in North Carolina, the usual fee to have the sheriff serve is $15. I would contact the local sheriff agency to determine their fee for service.

If the sheriff is unable to serve your spouse, your next avenue is to try to serve by certified or registered mail. You can also try to serve by personal delivery by a proper individual or by a designated delivery service (i.e. FedEx). If all those avenues fail, you must then try to serve by publication.

Until the opposing party has been served with the divorce complaint you cannot do anything. You must wait until the opposing party has been served or that service by publication has been done and there has been no response. Each case is different and therefore it is nearly impossible to determine how long it takes to receive a divorce.

Related Article: Was I Properly Served?

How is a divorce in NC granted? Will I have to go to court?

Again, in North Carolina this varies county by county. Some counties require live testimony, while others do not. The divorce is granted once it is scheduled for hearing (after the opposing party has had the opportunity to answer the complaint or the opposing party has failed to come forward after service by publication).

Once the hearing has been scheduled, the judge ensures all the requirements have been met (i.e. service, jurisdiction, and the one-year separation) and then signs the Judgment of Divorce. Once again, you will need to speak to an attorney to determine whether or not a court appearance is necessary.

Related Article: 10 Steps For Succeeding In Divorce Court

What typically happens if I go to court to obtain my divorce myself?


In Mecklenburg County, there is a self-serve center that has the necessary forms to file for divorce. They can help you fill out the forms and obtain a divorce. In other counties, there may be other free services that help people obtain a divorce without an attorney. I would speak to the clerk’s office in your individual county to see what services are offered.

However, I would speak to an attorney prior to filing for divorce on your own, so that they can discuss with you the other possible claims that may be available to you.

How do I prove fault for divorce in NC?

According to North Carolina divorce laws, you do not need to prove fault for divorce. As long as you prove there has been a period of one year of separation and that one party has resided in North Carolina for six months prior to the filing of the action, then you can apply for a divorce. Fault as no place in a strict Absolute Divorce action.

At any time during a divorce in NC, can a parent change a minor child’s last name without the other parent’s permission?

In North Carolina, a parent cannot change the minor child’s last name without the other parent’s consent except in limited circumstances. If the other parent is deceased, then the other parent can change the minor child’s last name. Also, if the minor child is 16, then the consent of the other parent is not necessary.

Additionally, if you can prove to the Clerk of Court that the other parent has abandoned the minor child (or if the minor child has been adjudicated abandoned) then it is possible to change the last name of the minor child without the abandoning parent’s consent.

Related Article: What Is The Process For Changing My Child’s Last Name?

Is there common law marriage in North Carolina?

No. North Carolina does not allow common law marriages. In North Carolina, you must either be solemnized as husband and wife in front of an ordained minister of any religious denomination, minister authorized by a church, magistrate, or in accordance with any solemnization recognized by any religious denomination, or federally or state recognized Indian Nation or Tribe.

Related Article: What qualifies as a legal wedding or common law marriage?

What is an uncontested divorce in NC?

Uncontested or no-fault divorces in NC are the simplest type of divorce. In an uncontested divorce, the divorce is agreed upon by both parties and there is no need to prove any fault. This results in a shorter divorce process that does not require a lengthy court process. Couples must have been separated for one year prior to filing for a no fault divorce. The primary consideration in an uncontested divorce is determining the division of any shared property and arranging for child custody.

How do you get a divorce in NC without waiting a year?

The state of North Carolina requires couples to have been separated for one year before getting a divorce. While there can be exceptions to this requirement based on extenuating circumstances, there is no way to avoid this one year waiting period.

Who gets the house in a divorce in NC?

In most NC divorce cases, the decision of who keeps possession of the home will depend on a number of factors. If the home was independently owned by one spouse prior to the marriage, they will retain possession of the home. If the house was jointly purchased after the marriage, then the house can be sold and the proceeds split, one spouse can keep the house while the other spouse takes other assets, or in a fault based divorce, the party not at fault can appeal to keep the house and have the other spouse removed.

Frank Murphy

Edited By Frank Murphy

Chief Compliance Officer
Frank Murphy

Frank Murphy is the Chief Compliance Officer and an Executive Partner at Cordell & Cordell. His responsibilities include oversight of the Firm’s compliance with Legal and Ethical obligations as well as contributing to the day-to-day operations of the Firm as an Executive Partner.

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