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Legal Information: North Carolina

Divorce

Laws current as of May 8, 2024

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?