Guide to the Divorce Process in North Carolina
Seeking a divorce doesn't have to be difficult. In fact, the divorce process in North Carolina has been streamlined to the point where many people are perfectly capable of filing without the assistance of a lawyer. Other divorce cases may require extensive litigation. This guide can help you to understand the steps in the divorce process in North Carolina, including the state's eligible grounds for divorce and the steps involved in filing divorce paperwork.
Almost all divorces in the state of North Carolina are filed using the state's no-fault grounds. The only fault grounds that are permitted involve one spouse being permanently insane for at least 3 years. North Carolina's no-fault reason for divorce is always the same: separation for more than one year.
Separation cannot occur while both spouses are sharing the same home, even if they are not becoming sexually intimate or have separate bedrooms. You must maintain two separate households in order to file for divorce, though you will not have to generally produce proof of this (your word on court documents is sufficient).
Complaint and Answer
The legal divorce process in North Carolina begins when one spouse files a divorce complaint with your local courthouse. The other spouse needs to be officially served with the divorce papers, which can be done by the sheriff's office for a low fee, by certified mail, or—if your spouse is missing—by publishing a notice in a local newspaper near their last known residence.
The spouse who is served divorce papers will be given time to file an answer to the complaint that can contest any aspect of the division of property, child custody, or other requests in the divorce complaint. Many people choose to simplify the divorce process in North Carolina and can agree on all aspects of the divorce. If you can agree, you will use a “Judgment Granting Absolute Divorce” and be asked by a judge about your agreement. If the court approves, your divorce will be granted quickly and can be negotiated without legal counsel.
Preparing for Trial
If there are contested issues, the discovery process will begin before your trial. This is sometimes the longest part of the divorce process in North Carolina. Both spouses (and, usually, their legal counsel) will investigate each other's finances. Expert witnesses may be hired to appraise jewelry or other valuable property, and you may have to pay big legal bills for this part of the process.
You may be asked to undergo mediation or arbitration, which are less formal negotiating processes handled outside a courtroom. Mediators or arbitrators can hasten the divorce process in North Carolina, keeping expenses down.
Trial and Judgment
If you cannot agree on the terms of your divorce, you will have a full trial. This will lead to a judgment being entered after witnesses are called and testimony is given. Legal expenses are greatest for divorces that get to this point in the divorce process in North Carolina. Your divorce judge will hand down a divorce judgment that decides all contested issues in your case, and you will be officially divorced.