Divorce in North Carolina

You probably thought your love would last forever, but divorce is an unfortunate reality for many. We want to ensure you and your children get through it and with everything you need to start a new, better life.

It’s always emotionally challenging to end a relationship, especially when it is a legal marriage. The end of a marriage comes with decisions about dividing your property and bills, how to share custody of your children, and even who will get your pets. When you face these issues, it’s important to have a North Carolina divorce lawyer on your side.

As an experienced family law attorney, Jonathan Breeden blends compassionate and aggressive advocacy for people going through a divorce in Wake, Johnston, and Harnett counties, including the communities of Raleigh, Clayton, Garner, Smithfield, and Angier. He provides direct, straightforward communication and a commitment to help you move forward with life after a divorce.

As a domestic violence victim, you have options to ensure your protection, and a divorce lawyer can inform you of your rights.

What You Need to Know About Divorce

To be eligible for a divorce in North Carolina, you or your spouse must have lived in the state for at least six months before filing. If neither has lived in the state long enough, the divorce must be sought where you previously resided.

If you wish to seek a divorce from bed and board, you will be required to meet other grounds for separation.

Grounds for Divorce in NC

North Carolina is a no-fault state, so you don’t have to seek a divorce because the other spouse did something wrong. To seek an absolute divorce, you must prove either incurable insanity or separation of one year.

Option 1: Incurable Insanity

This reason for divorce is rarely used. You and your spouse must have been living apart for three consecutive years and still be living apart due to one of the spouse’s incurable insanity.

The law lays out multiple but precise ways to prove the spouse’s incurable insanity for the necessary separation. It’s best to seek an experienced divorce attorney in North Carolina. Gaining a divorce on these grounds requires particular evidence and may require a lot of time and legal process.

Option 2: Separation

The most common way to obtain an absolute divorce in North Carolina is by separating for at least one year. Spouses must show they’ve lived apart the entire time. This doesn’t mean living in separate bedrooms or mostly in different places — each person must have an entirely separate residence for the entire one-year period.

In general, a separation requires that the spouses end sexual relations. However, North Carolina law will not deny a divorce based on isolated incidents between the parties.

Proving separation in a divorce proceeding is usually simple – the parties testify that they’ve lived apart for at least one year and that at least one of the parties intended for the separation to be permanent. The only issue of proof arises if one spouse denies that claim.

If you’re thinking about divorce, it may not be the best course of action to move out of the family home right away. You want the separation to start as soon as possible, but it’s a good idea to speak with a divorce lawyer before deciding who continues to live in the marital residence. Moving out could affect the division of property and your rights in the future.


You or your spouse must have resided in North Carolina for at least six months. Living here doesn’t just mean you own a house. It means you live here and intend to indefinitely make the state your home. Before the six-month mark, the state’s courts have no power over your marriage. Any divorce granted in North Carolina too early would be void.

You don’t have to be a U.S. citizen to be a resident of North Carolina. You can become a resident as a legal immigrant, student, or military service member.

While you must be considered a resident when you file for divorce, you don’t have to remain in the state until your divorce is finalized. You can move during the legal process.

Related Divorce Answers

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Should I File for Divorce First?

Attorney Breeden understands the ways that a divorce can disrupt your life and your finances, and is committed to helping you get the best possible outcome for your case. However, there is no true legal advantage being the first to file first.

Protecting Your Interests in a Divorce

During a divorce, the separation of assets and bills can lead to conflict that could have been avoided with agreements made before or after marriage. Learn more about the agreements that can protect you:

North Carolina Divorce Basics

In North Carolina, you must wait one year after separating from your spouse to file for divorce; however, you can begin the process immediately with the help of a skilled divorce lawyer.

Even before you file your divorce paperwork with the court, you can settle how you and your spouse will handle:

  • Equitable Distribution of Property – Learn about North Carolina legal requirements regarding division of property in a divorce and the benefits of having a lawyer to represent your interests.
  • Dividing Your Bills in a Divorce – How you divide debts can be just as important in a divorce as how you divide property. Learn more about what to expect as you move forward with your divorce when you and your spouse have shared debts such as a mortgage, vehicle, loans (including student loans), and credit cards.
  • Division of Inheritance – The division of an inheritance could affect your divorce proceedings, so it’s important to know what legal issues you may face if this situation arises.
  • Alimony / Spousal Support – Learn more about post-separation support, alimony, and how they are awarded in a North Carolina divorce.
  • Your Will After a Divorce – After a divorce, it’s important to know how your will might be affected. Contact an NC divorce lawyer to learn more.
  • Child Custody – Learn about agreements regarding custody, visitation, and child support while keeping the best interests of your children in mind. How these issues get settled can be complicated, and your best chance at a fair and beneficial outcome is with the help of an experienced North Carolina divorce lawyer who can be your advocate through this process.

Filing the Divorce Complaint

To ask for an absolute divorce, you or your spouse must file a verified complaint in the county in which one of you resides. The complaint must state that you or your spouse have lived in North Carolina for at least six months and lived separately for at least one year. The complaint should contain the names and ages of minor children or state that there are none.

The complaint will likely be more complicated and ask for numerous issues to be resolved, such as equitable distribution of property, alimony, child support, and child custody. Because there are so many factors, it’s best to have a knowledgeable lawyer.

Service of Process

Everyone’s heard of being served and this is when the defendant in the lawsuit is formally notified and given a copy of the summons to court and complaint. Whichever spouse files for divorce must provide proper service of process to the other spouse to move forward with the proceedings.

Other North Carolina Divorce Issues

Divorce, division of property and debts, alimony, and other issues related to divorce can come with a number of legal complications. How the issues related to your marriage will be resolved depending on factors that are unique to you and your former or soon-to-be former spouse.

A divorce lawyer can answer questions about your case and a range of marital issues in North Carolina, such as:

  • Annulment – Find out if annulment is an option in your marriage and the process that you must navigate if that is your choice.
  • Separation – Prior to a divorce, couples generally separate. Find out how issues that come up during separation can affect your divorce.
  • Military Divorce in North Carolina When you or your spouse serve in the military and are considering separation and divorce, it’s important to know every aspect of the process as it applies to your service. For help in this situation, call Breeden Law Office to speak to a military divorce lawyer.
  • North Carolina Uncontested Divorce – If both parties can reach an agreement regarding legal issues during a divorce, proceedings can be expedited. Learn how an uncontested divorce can benefit you.
  • Interstate Divorce – Learn more about how to handle getting a divorce in North Carolina when you or your spouse lives in another state.
  • Post-Divorce Modifications – Learn which terms can be changed after your divorce is finalized and the process for making a modification, as well as which terms cannot be changed once your divorce is final.
  • Talking to Your Kids About Divorce – It can be challenging to talk to your children about your marriage ending. Learn more about how to prepare them for this difficult familial time.
  • Fraud & Hidden Assets – When your spouse is hiding assets during divorce proceedings, it’s important to reach out to a North Carolina divorce lawyer for help and to learn about your options moving forward.
  • LGBTQ Legal Issues – Same-sex marriage has only been legal in North Carolina for a short time. Learn more about the emerging issues related to same-sex marriage and divorce.
  • Mental Health Issues & Divorce – If you are concerned with how mental health issues may impact your divorce, contact Breeden Law Office for help right away.
  • Marital Misconduct – Marital misconduct covers a wide range of actions, all of which could affect your divorce and court proceedings. Learn more about how an attorney can help you further understand this issue.
  • Alienation of Affection – North Carolina is a no-fault divorce state, but when a spouse has an affair, the law allows the wronged spouse to sue the “other man” or “other woman” who participated in the infidelity. Learn more about the civil cause of action for alienation of affection and when it might be an option.
  • Divorce Lawyer for Men – In a divorce in North Carolina, men might feel they’re not being treated fairly. Attorney Jonathan Breeden is ready to help protect their rights and ensure they’re receiving an equitable outcome.
  • Filing Taxes After Divorce – Filing taxes can be complicated, but dealing with them after a divorce can be overwhelming on your own. Turn to Attorney Jonathan Breeden to get help to ensure accuracy and avoid penalties.
  • Divorcing because of a Sexless Marriage – It may seem unusual, but it’s possible for a couple to get a divorce if there is a lack of intimacy. Reach out to Attorney Jonathan Breeden to understand the nuances for this kind of divorce.
  • High-Profile Divorce – Divorces involving prominent members of the public or business owners can get messy with long-lasting impacts on their lives. Breeden Law can help you with your high-profile divorce.
  • Dividing Digital Assets — Property is divided between the separating spouses in a divorce, including digital assets. Because the property usually isn’t physical, it isn’t always easy to split or assign. NC laws say property will be divided fairly. A divorce attorney can advise you on how to split digital assets with your ex.

Why You Need Legal Help for a Divorce

A North Carolina divorce isn’t as simple as some online sources seem, and it isn’t the same in every county. You have to know where to go, what forms to fill out, what information must be provided, and much more. If you and your spouse own a significant amount of property or have minor children, your divorce will likely coincide with other actions, which means you have more to add to your complaint.

While you’re worried and stressed about the decision to separate or divorce, you shouldn’t have to put yourself through a divorce law tutorial. There’s no need to stay up late Googling “NC divorce lawyer” because there are lawyers like Jonathan Breeden who are ready to help you.

Breeden Law Office understands how difficult it can be – no one decides to divorce lightly, so he treats every client with compassion and offers tailored representation.

Reason #1: Risk of Unfair Results

When a divorce goes smoothly without attorneys, it’s often because no significant assets or minor children are involved. The only property to potentially divide consists of cars, home furnishings, and debts. These are often quickly allocated by the couple or the judge.

However, most people aren’t involved in such a simple situation. Couples generally own a home together and may have assets such as stocks or financial investments, cars, boats, or vacation properties to divide.

Most couples also have children who require a custody arrangement. Additionally, retirement accounts and savings are at stake, which matters greatly when one of the spouses financially relies on the other during the marriage.

Recommended reading 6 Common Child Custody Questions

Unfair results often arise from divorces in which one spouse is not aware of what they are entitled to and is not represented by an experienced North Carolina divorce lawyer.

The role of an attorney in a divorce proceeding is to make sure the result is fair to their client – a necessity when one party is less educated or not as financially well off compared to the other.

Reason #2: Multiple Causes of Action

A divorce is one legal proceeding, but requests for equitable distribution of property, spousal support, custody, and child support are all separate legal actions that will need to be addressed simultaneously. Many people assume these things are all taken care of during a divorce, but they aren’t automatic.

If you don’t settle the matter directly with your spouse, you must formally ask the court to become involved. In most cases, it’s best to ask for everything you need in your complaint so that it can all be addressed moving forward, and a divorce lawyer can best advise you on how to structure your complaint so that all of the important issues are addressed.

Reason #3: Fear of Violence

Sometimes, one spouse fears abuse or misconduct from the other when the issue of separation or divorce comes to light, or they might worry about the children. In these situations, it’s common for physical or severe emotional abuse to have occurred in the past.

When one individual fears violence from another, a lawyer can help devise a plan for keeping that person and the children safe and begin the divorce proceeding. The lawyer may file a restraining order and seek a temporary custody order for the children.

An attorney will also be able to advise an individual on how to handle the issue of money, such as if they can remove money from a joint account and, if so, how much.

Reason #4: Moving Past Anger

No matter the size of the family or marital estate, it’s common for spouses to feel hostile toward one another or upset over the end of their marriage. These feelings can cloud an individual’s judgment and make it harder for the parties to agree on matters themselves.

If extramarital affairs or other issues occur during the marriage, feelings of anger and resentment can make it difficult for an individual to handle the objective portions of the divorce on their own. Instead, an attorney can maintain a clear head, fight to uphold your rights, and help you stay on a path that’s best for your future.

Divorce FAQs

Divorce brings up a lot of questions. We make an effort to answer most of them, so you feel secure. In addition to these frequently asked divorce questions, before hiring a divorce lawyer, you should get answers to these questions.

What if My Spouse Doesn’t Want to Divorce?

As long as you and your spouse meet necessary separation requirements, you do not need your spouse’s consent to divorce. However, if your spouse disagrees with any terms of the divorce agreement like those regarding property division, they may choose to contest the divorce terms. Although your spouse could delay the divorce process, they cannot prevent the divorce from happening. A property division lawyer from Breeden Law Office can help you through the process.

What if My Spouse Cheated? Does the Court Care?

North Carolina is a no-fault state for divorce, meaning that you don’t need grounds to obtain a divorce. However, marital misconduct may be considered in other aspects of your case, like awarding alimony.

Further, you can obtain a divorce from bed and board on the grounds of adultery. This is not a legal divorce but instead a court-ordered separation. 

Do I Have to Go to Court?

Every divorce case is different, and some may be resolved outside the courtroom. If both spouses resolve all issues through a separation agreement, they may avoid court. However, when emotions run high, and many matters are disputed, the court might be necessary to reach a mutual agreement. 

How Long Do I Need to Wait to Remarry?

You are unable to remarry until your divorce is finalized. However, you can date after you and your spouse separate. If you date someone before your divorce is final, your ex might try to claim you were dating that person while you were married.


Divorce In North Carolina: What You Need To Know

A book by Jonathan Breeden