Legal Information: North Carolina


November 27, 2017

What are the basic steps for filing for divorce in North Carolina?

The following steps are meant to be a guide in the divorce process but you should talk to a lawyer to get specific advice for your situation:

  • You must meet the residency requirements of NC, which means that one spouse has lived in NC for at least six months prior to the filing.
  • You and your spouse must have been living separately for one year (assuming you are not filing under the insanity ground).
  • After you and your spouse have been separated for at least one year, you or your lawyer file a divorce complaint and summons with the clerk of court in the county of your residence.
  • The divorce complaint and summons must then be served (delivered) to your spouse,* either by the sheriff or by certified mail.**
  • 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 agrees with everything, then s/he could sign the papers and send them back to you and the court.  If your spouse agrees with everything and signs the papers, this is called an “uncontested divorce.”  Also, if a certain period of time passes and your spouse does not sign the papers or file any papers of his/her own, you may be able to proceed with the divorce as an uncontested divorce anyway.
  • Afterwards, you will have a hearing in front of a judge.  The judge has to enter a judgment declaring you divorced and a divorce decree would be issued, which is file-stamped by the clerk.

The divorce is only one part of the process. It is just the judicial order that ends your marriage.  The complexity of a divorce case arises in deciding other issues such as child custody, child support, division of property, and alimony.  (But you must file a claim and preserve your right to property BEFORE a divorce is granted).  These issues are resolved either through negotiation between you and your spouse (separation agreement) or through a court process.

* NCGS § 50-8
** NCGS 1A § 4(j)(1)