WomensLaw serves and supports all survivors, no matter their sex or gender.

Legal Information: North Carolina

North Carolina Divorce

Laws current as of
December 22, 2023

This page has information about divorce in North Carolina. You will find more information about divorce, including the risks of taking your children out of state while a divorce is pending, on our general Divorce page. To watch brief videos about divorce in Spanish with English sub-titles, go to our Videos page. Lastly, learn more about the court process on our Preparing for Court – By Yourself page.

What are the residency requirements to file for divorce in North Carolina?

To file for divorce in North Carolina, one spouse must have been living in North Carolina for at least six months immediately prior to the filing.1 It does not matter if you were married in North Carolina or in another state.

1 N.C.G.S. § 50-8

What are the reasons (grounds) for divorce in North Carolina?

The reason for a divorce is called the ground for divorce. To receive a divorce in North Carolina, which the state refers to as an “absolute divorce,” there’s no need to prove that either spouse is at fault to get the divorce. This is why North Carolina is known as a “no-fault state.”

There are only two grounds for divorce in North Carolina:

  • separation for one year;1 or
  • incurable insanity of one spouse and living separate and apart for three consecutive years, including at the time where the petition is filed.2

In order to get divorced under the one-year separation ground, you must have lived “separate and apart” for one year and at least one spouse must have had the intention to remain separate and apart. You do not need to file for “legal separation” in order to begin the one-year period.

1 N.C.G.S. § 50-6
2 N.C.G.S. § 50-5.1

What’s a divorce from bed and board?

A divorce from bed and board is similar to a legal separation and it may be a way to protect your rights or to get child or spousal support until you can get an absolute divorce in court, but it doesn’t actually end (dissolve) the marriage. This is a fault-based action, usually brought by an injured spouse to get the court to order the other spouse out of the home.

For a divorce from bed and board, you must establish at least one of the following fault grounds:

  • abandonment;
  • maliciously being thrown out of the house;
  • cruel treatment that endangers your life, such as physical abuse;
  • s/he makes your life miserable, such as emotional abuse;
  • abuse of alcohol or drugs to the point where you cannot tolerate living with your spouse; or
  • adultery.1

For more information on “divorce from bed and board,” please talk to a lawyer who specializes in divorce. You can find lawyers in your area in NC Finding a Lawyer.

1 N.C.G.S.§ 50-7

What are the reasons I can get an annulment?

Although many people believe that an annulment is based on the length of the marriage, how long the couple has been married is not the determining factor about whether or not a spouse can get an annulment. In North Carolina, a marriage can be annulled, which means it is considered “void,” when:

  • spouses are related more closely (“nearer of kin”) than first cousins, such as a marriage between siblings;
  • spouses are “double first cousins,” which means that two brothers married two sisters and they each had children – those children are double first cousins;
  • one of the spouses was under 16 years of age at the time of the marriage;
  • one of the spouses was legally married at the time of the current marriage;
  • either one of the spouses was physically impotent at the time of the marriage; or
  • one of the spouses was incompetent or incapable of consenting to the marriage.1

1 N.C.G.S. § 51-3

Can I get alimony? What factors will a judge consider?

Alimony, also called maintenance or spousal support, is financial support paid by, or to, your spouse and can be awarded as part of a divorce. A judge may award you alimony if s/he finds that:

  • you are the dependent spouse;
  • your spouse is the supporting spouse; and
  • that giving you alimony is fair (equitable) after considering the list of factors below. However, the judge may not award alimony under some circumstances of marital misconduct.1

To decide the amount of alimony and for how long alimony will be paid, a judge will consider:

  1. any bad behavior during the marriage (“marital misconduct”) of either spouse; Note: The judge can consider marital misconduct that happened after the date of separation in order to help prove that marital misconduct happened during the marriage;
  2. the relative earnings and earning capacity of each spouse;
  3. the age, physical, mental, and emotional condition of each spouse;
  4. the amount and source of income for each spouse including, but not limited to, earnings, dividends, and benefits, like retirement, medical, insurance, and Social Security;
  5. the length of your marriage;
  6. the contribution of one spouse to the education, training, or increased earning potential of the other spouse;
  7. the effect that having custody of a child will have on that spouse’s earning capacity and expenses;
  8. the standard of living during the marriage;
  9. the education of each spouse;
  10. the time necessary for the spouse getting alimony to get the education or training needed to be able to find a job to meet her/his economic needs;
  11. the relative assets, debts, and liabilities of each spouse, including legal obligations of support;
  12. the property each spouse brought into the marriage;
  13. the contribution of a spouse as a homemaker;
  14. the needs of each spouse;
  15. the tax consequences of alimony; and
  16. any other economic factors the judge thinks are important.2

You or your spouse can request a jury trial to decide whether you or your spouse committed marital misconduct, as mentioned in #1, above.3

1 N.C.G.S.§ 50-16.3A(a)
2 N.C.G.S.§ 50-16.3A(b)
3 N.C.G.S.§ 50-16.3A(d)

What are the basic steps for filing for divorce?

While divorce laws vary by state, here are the basic steps:

  • First, you must meet the residency requirements of the state.
  • Second, you must have “grounds,” a legally acceptable reason, to end your marriage.
  • Third, you must file divorce papers and have copies sent to your spouse. (To learn more about filing a summons, preparing a petition, and service of process, go to the Starting the Court Case page in our Preparing for Court - By Yourself section.)
  • Fourth, if your spouse disagrees with anything in the divorce papers, then s/he will have the opportunity to file papers telling his/her side. This is called “contesting the divorce.” If s/he contests it, then you will have a series of court appearances to sort the issues out. If your spouse does not disagree with anything, then s/he should sign the papers and send them back to you. If your spouse agrees with everything and signs the papers, this is called a “simplified divorce” but it is only available if you do not have children with your spouse. If your spouse does not sign the papers for a simplified divorce, you would have to file a regular petition for dissolution of marriage. If your spouse doesn’t respond to those papers after being properly served, you can get a divorce “by default.”
  • Fifth, if there is property that you need divided or if you need financial support from your spouse, then you will have to work that out either in an out-of-court settlement or in a series of court hearings. Custody may also be decided as part of your divorce.

You can find more information about service of process in our Preparing for Court – By Yourself section, in the question called What is service of process and how do I accomplish it?

Where can I find additional information about divorce?

We hope the following link to an outside source may be helpful.

Legal Aid of North Carolina has a do-it-yourself divorce packet, which includes divorce forms that you might need, an explanation of the divorce process, and a glossary of terms you might encounter if you choose to get divorced. You should not use this packet, however, if you wish to get spousal support or divide property between you and your spouse.

WomensLaw.org is unrelated to the above organization and cannot vouch for the accuracy of its site. We provide these links for your information only.

You will find more information about divorce, including the risks of taking your children out of state while a divorce is pending, on our general Divorce page. To watch brief videos about divorce in Spanish with English sub-titles, go to our Videos page. Lastly, learn more about the court process on our Preparing for Court – By Yourself page.