It is common for divorcing people to want to legally dissolve their marriage as quickly as possible. However, North Carolina has lengthy waiting periods to ensure that spouses won’t change their minds and don’t conceive a baby while waiting for their divorce papers to be finalized. That is why the state requires spouses to separate for a year before filing for a divorce and mandates a waiting period after the divorce paperwork has been served. Let’s cover the details about the requirements for an uncontested divorce in North Carolina.
Grounds for Divorce
Whether spouses want to name each other at fault for their marriage dissolution or not determines the length of their divorce proceedings. North Carolina recognizes both a no-fault divorce (where neither spouse is at fault) and a fault-based divorce. In the latter case, the petitioner (the spouse who files for divorce) has the ‘burden of proof’ and must present evidence to the court that the respondent is guilty of one of the following marital misconducts:
- cruel treatment
- intolerable behavior
- alcohol or drug abuse
- maliciously forcing the other spouse to leave
However, the couple should be aware that any fault-based ground for divorce significantly lengthens the proceedings.
In contrast, there are two no-fault grounds for divorce in North Carolina:
- A one-year separation when the spouses live separate and apart and have no normal marital activities, such as sexual relations, joint child care, shared financial obligations, shared living, etc.
- A three-year separation due to one spouse’s documented “incurable insanity” where the spouse with a mental condition gets medical care outside of the marital home and cannot have a normal married life with the other spouse.
The List of Mandated Waiting Periods in North Carolina Divorce
If you want to get a no-fault divorce, your timeline will probably include the following waiting periods:
- One-year separation before either of you can file for divorce.
- Six-month residency in North Carolina before either of you can file for divorce (See C. Gen. Stat. § 50-6 (2019).), which can overlap with the separation period.
- 45-90-day period to finalize the divorce case, which typically includes:
- a 30-day period to file a response for the spouse served with divorce papers, plus an additional 30 days if the respondent spouse requests it from the court
- a 3-5 week waiting period for the judge to sign the Judgment for Absolute Divorce
North Carolina mandates that all divorcing couples meet these waiting period requirements. Thus, a North Carolina divorce process usually takes around 90 days to get finalized. However, it is possible to reduce the length of your NC divorce up to around 45 days if you waive the service requirement and the right to file a response to the divorce petition.
Also, clarify with your divorce attorney whether the judge would agree to waive the one-year waiting period in your case. There can be some exceptional circumstances, but no one can guarantee that your case will qualify.
However, don’t let yourself be idle during the separation period. It is a good time to start divorce negotiations with your soon-to-be-ex-spouse and settle often contested issues such as child custody, child and spousal support, and division of property. The less contested these issues are, the more affordable and peaceful your divorce can be.
Factors that Can Impact the Length of a NC Divorce
The fastest way of getting a divorce is to agree on all divorce-related matters during the one-year separation period. Then a petitioner doesn’t need to serve their spouse with divorce papers. They can waive service with the court. Here are the issues spouses should tackle before filing for divorce or while waiting for the court to process the documents.
Child Custody. Keeping the child’s interests a priority, the parents can settle the custody issue either on their own, with a mediator, or with the judge at a hearing. North Carolina custody laws require divorced parents to share child care, have relationships with the child, and provide as much stability in school, community, and home as possible. The parents should decide the terms of physical and legal custody, picking either sole custody or joint custody (See N.C. Gen. Stat. § 50-13.2 (2020)).
Child Support. When determining child support payments, the NC court considers how many children each parent supports, each parent’s income, health, and the custody arrangement. Typically, the non-custodial parent is obliged by the court to make child-support payments. The court accounts for all expenses (education, medical insurance, childcare, etc.), and usually, both parents share them.
Alimony. When determining whether one spouse should pay alimony to the other spouse, the court examines evidence proving that the claiming spouse is dependent and the other is the supporting spouse. Also, the judge will look at the length of the marriage and each spouse’s earning capacity, health, age, income, education, participation in the household, and contributions to the education and earning potential of the other spouse.
Property Division. In North Carolina, the equitable and fair division of marital property is considered 50/50. If the spouses provide evidence that a 50/50 distribution is not fair, the court will consider a different split of the marital property.
Do It Yourself Divorce in North Carolina
The general rule in the dissolution of marriage in North Carolina is the simpler the couple’s situation, the quicker the divorce. Though it cannot be faster than the 45-90 days mentioned earlier, issues of child custody, visitation, child support, alimony, and equitable distribution of marital property can definitely extend the length of your divorce.
If parties meet the residency and separation requirements, they can have a DIY divorce without a lawyer. Simply fill out the forms and apply for divorce at a local courthouse. Whereas it is possible to complete an application for divorce online (there are divorce companies that can assist you with paperwork), you cannot yet finalize your divorce over the Internet. Don’t get fooled when you see ‘internet divorce or web divorce in North Carolina.’ Online divorce simply means that it’s possible to get inexpensive help with paperwork preparation.
In North Carolina, a petitioner has to bring their divorce paperwork to the courthouse and file it in person. Spouses can contact the county clerk to investigate if it’s possible to file papers online with the court’s e-filing system.
Steps for Getting an Uncontested Divorce in North Carolina
Step One. A Petitioner should download the court forms for an uncontested divorce in North Carolina and complete them.
Step Two. The petitioner should make four copies of the completed divorce forms and take them to the Clerk of Court’s Office. The originals stay with the court clerk, and all copies get signed/stamped by the clerk. Some counties provide e-filing where a petitioner can submit divorce papers online. When filing with the court, a petitioner will be required to pay filing fees. If they cannot afford the filing fees, they can submit a Petition to Proceed as an Indigent.
Step Three. If the spouses have not waived the service of the divorce paperwork, the petitioner should arrange to have the papers served to a defendant. There are four options of service: (1) by Sheriff; (2) by certified mail; (3) by acceptance of Service; or (4) by publication. Also, some counties allow serving through e-filing.
Step Four. In Step Four, there are two options: either the defendant files a response within 30 days, or once 30 days have passed with no response, the plaintiff can set a hearing date with the court.
Step Five. If the parties are presenting their divorce case without an attorney, the spouses, if present, will answer the judge’s questions about their marriage, separation, and the terms of marriage dissolution. If the judge finds the testimony satisfactory, they will sign the Judgment of Absolute Divorce (in three copies) and dissolve the marriage.
If you have any questions, please consult with a divorce attorney. If you claim alimony and equitable distribution in your divorce case, consultation with a lawyer is strongly advised. Otherwise, you can misinterpret or lose the rights important to you.
It is quicker and less stressful if spouses have an amicable separation and complete divorce online. In North Carolina, spouses can have their divorce paperwork completed online at a fraction of the price charged by a lawyer. It is an excellent option if you are trying to limit the cost of divorce.
Be careful in all cases of marriage dissolution. If you cannot hire a divorce attorney to handle the entire case, at least have a consultation to ensure that you know your rights and understand how to protect your interests regarding child custody, equitable distribution, and support.