Understanding Divorce in North Carolina

When a marriage ends in North Carolina, there are multiple issues that must be dealt with prior to a court granting an absolute divorce. Those who have met the requirements for an absolute divorce want a permanent termination of the marriage and seek an absolute divorce. When the court grants an absolute divorce, the legal marriage is dissolved and both parties are considered single.

What is Absolute Divorce?

There are two ways you can get an absolute divorce in North Carolina. One rarely-used option is incurable insanity. A couple can only pursue this option if there is evidence of insanity and the parties have lived separately for at least three years. Most couples, however, seek absolute divorce by meeting the state’s separation requirements.

Separation Requirements

In North Carolina, couples must live separate and apart for at least 12 months and one day prior to getting a divorce. The court requires evidence that the parties have maintained separate households and that one or both parties intended the separation to be permanent. Any evidence that the couple attempted reconciliation during this time frame can lead to a restart of the 12-month period.

Like most other states, North Carolina also has residency requirements for those seeking a divorce. One or both parties must have lived in North Carolina for the six months prior to the divorce action.

Property Distribution in North Carolina

North Carolina is an equitable distribution state. This means that the court will divide your property in a way that is equitable, meaning that it must be fair. The court must begin the process by presuming that it is equitable to split the marital and divisible property equally. In order to seek an equitable distribution, you must file an Equitable Distribution complaint. Alternatively, you can reach an agreement with your spouse that explains the division of property that you deem fair. Such an agreement can be obtained while separated and prior to filing for absolute divorce.

Child Support and Child Custody in North Carolina

In North Carolina, there is no presumption favoring either parent regarding custody. The only concern is the welfare of the child. Courts will consider the following in determining the welfare of the child:

  • What is the child’s age?
  • Who assumed primary responsibility in caring for the child during the marriage?
  • Who would feed, bathe, clothe, and teach the child during the week?
  • What is the work schedule of each parent who works outside the home?
  • What is the physical, emotional, and parenting abilities of each parent?
  • With whom is the child bonded psychologically?
  • Is either parent using the child just to hurt the other parent?
  • Is either parent preventing the child from continuing a relationship with the other parent?
  • Is either parent unfit, unwilling, or unable to raise the child?

Child custody may be decided by agreement of the parties, i.e., without a trial. Even if a lawsuit has been filed, the parties may agree and ask the court to approve their agreement. The agreement almost always will be approved.

Child support in North Carolina is generally determined by the NC Child Support Guidelines and the Child support Calculator. However, just as child custody, child support may be decided by agreement and then approved by the court. 

Both child custody and child support can be agreed to by you upon separation or soon after separation by agreement. If there is no agreement of the parties when you separate then a complaint seeking a Child custody and child support determination must be filed with the court. 

Alimony in North Carolina

When you separate, you or your spouse may be able to file a complaint with the court seeking spousal support. North Carolina courts will award spousal support only to a dependent spouse.  You are dependent if you earn insufficient income to maintain the standard of living enjoyed during the marriage because of the loss of your spouse’s income. Determining spousal support is complex, involving numerous relevant factors assessed by the judge. Unlike child support, there is no set of alimony guidelines based on a numerical formula or an alimony calculator. 

The Legal Process

The divorce process is fairly straightforward in North Carolina, but it’s important to go through the proper process to avoid delays. The party filing for divorce must fill out a Domestic Civil Action Cover Sheet, a Civil Summons, and a Complaint for Absolute Divorce. The filing party should make copies and save one copy of each form for themselves, have one copy of each served to the other party, and provide one copy to the court. Forms may be filed at the Clerk of Court in your county. The appropriate forms must be served to the defendant, at which point the defendant has 30 days to file a response or ask for an extension.

Assuming that there is no extension, both parties must simply wait until their scheduled court date. The court may ask questions to establish proof that both parties lived separately for at least 12 months. The court will then pass down its judgment.

The process is more hands-off if the filing party retains an attorney. The attorney will handle much of the paperwork, filing requirements, and other court requirements.

Ready to take the next step? Learn more about your divorce options by contacting Goodwin Law & Mediation.

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Goodwin Law & Mediation

At Goodwin Law & Mediation, we strive to fill an important niche in North Carolina legal services. Attorney Raymond Goodwin has a significant body of legal experience and a wealth of knowledge that he brings to the table to develop personalized solutions for a range of legal issues.

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