Steps to File for Divorce in North Carolina

Written by Jonathan Breeden

September 5, 2022

Filing for divorce in North Carolina can be a long and drawn-out process, or it could be a straightforward affair. It depends on the issues and the level of cooperation between those involved.

You must fully complete all the forms, properly file them, attend all hearings, and comply with any state procedures and local court rules. If you miss anything or make even a small mistake, the dissolution of your marriage could be delayed.

At the Breeden Law Office, we want to make the divorce process more manageable. Here is a step-by-step overview of filing for divorce in North Carolina.

Step 1: Physical Separation

Before filing for divorce, you must be physically separated from your spouse. That means you cannot live together or cohabitate for at least one year.

Legal Separation

Simply living apart does not make you “legally separated.” This is called “divorce from bed and board” in North Carolina, and it requires a court order. You do not have to be declared legally separated to obtain a divorce in North Carolina — you only need to live apart for one year and it be the intention of at least one spouse that the separation be permanent.

Step 2: Meet Residency Requirements

You must also meet specific residency requirements set by North Carolina before filing for divorce. You or your spouse must have lived in the state for at least six months.

Step 3: Your Grounds for Divorce

North Carolina is a “no-fault” divorce state. That means you do not have to prove that the other spouse did something wrong. A no-fault divorce is typically much faster and less contentious. Additionally, you do not have to have your spouse’s consent to end the marriage in a no-fault divorce.

There are grounds for divorce in North Carolina if you have lived separately and apart for more than one year. If either spouse is incurably insane, the required time to live apart could be three years. If you move back in with your spouse at any time, the timer resets.

What If I Want to Assert Grounds for My Divorce?

If you wish to assert grounds for your divorce, you may use the reason to achieve a legal separation or pursue alimony or spousal support.
Grounds for divorce can include:

  • Spousal abandonment
  • Cruel or barbarous treatment
  • Drug abuse
  • Adultery

Additionally, any pattern of conduct that makes your life “intolerable and burdensome” can support your legal separation. You cannot remarry during a legal separation; however, you can get an order for spousal support, asset division, child custody, and child support.

Step 4: File a Divorce Complaint

Once you determine that you qualify for a divorce, you can file the necessary paperwork. That will include a divorce complaint with the Clerk of Court in your county of residence. The complaint will state why you want a divorce and any relief sought.

Step 5: Serve Your Spouse

After you file the divorce complaint, you must serve it on your spouse. This is typically done through certified mail with a return receipt requested or by delivery from a sheriff.

What If My Spouse Ignores the Complaint?

If your spouse ignores the divorce complaint, they waive their right to answer any claims you have made. The divorce can still proceed without their approval. You do not need their participation; however, it can speed up the process.

Step 6: Negotiate the Terms

Before you go to court, you should try to negotiate the terms of your divorce with your spouse. If you agree about big issues like child custody, spousal support, and asset division, you will reduce time and expense.

Attend Mediation

Mediation is a coming together of the parties to reach an agreement. The court may even order mediation. This is where your divorce lawyer can help significantly. Family lawyers are skilled negotiators and have your best interests in mind. This means you get a positive situation that works now and considers the future.

What If My Spouse Won’t Agree to Anything?

If your spouse simply refuses to make any agreements, then the court will make a decision about all of the significant issues in your divorce. This can result in negative consequences for both parties. It is unlikely that either person will get what they want if they can’t reach a mutual agreement.

Step 7: Finalize the Divorce

If you and your spouse reach agreements about all the issues in your divorce, you may not ever have to go to court. Your attorney can handle everything from filing the legal documents to court conferences.

Attend a Court Hearing

You may have to attend at least one court hearing regarding your divorce. At divorce hearings, your attorney will present information and evidence to support how you want things to be divided in the divorce. The judge may also ask questions to clarify anything that seems vague or confusing.

Get the Final Divorce Order

The judge will sign off on your divorce order if you meet the grounds for divorce. In North Carolina, issues like child custody, property distribution, and child support are separate actions from the divorce in North Carolina. They can be litigated in the Courts during your one-year physical separation.

A Divorce Lawyer Can Help

Obtaining a divorce in North Carolina can be tricky, and there’s always a lot to consider. The steps provided are a great place to start, but it’s essential to protect yourself and your interests. The best way to do that is to work with a divorce lawyer who understands what you need.

With offices in Angier, Garner, Smithfield, and Raleigh call the Breeden Law Office at (919) 661-4970 today.


Divorce In North Carolina: What You Need To Know

A book by Jonathan Breeden