Blog What are the Requirements for Divorce in North Carolina?

What are the Requirements for Divorce in North Carolina?

The overall divorce rate has leveled off in recent years, mostly because the marriage rate has declined as well. However, divorce’s moral acceptability rate recently hit an all-time high. So, family courts in Carteret County hear about as many divorces now as they did back in the day. Many states have streamlined their divorce procedures. North Carolina isn’t one of those states.

So, the need for a Beaufort family law attorney is stronger than ever. Only an attorney walks you through the complex process and gives you solid legal advice the whole way. Furthermore, only an attorney stands up for your legal and financial rights. Without such advocacy, these important rights are only ink on paper.

Legal Separation

This legal option is only available in some states, and it’s pretty rare in the jurisdictions that allow it. However, legal separation is rather common in North Carolina, mostly because the divorce waiting period is so long. More on that is below.

Informal separation works very well for many families. Most of the soon-to-be-ex-spouses our Beaufort family law attorneys represent have been separated for at least six months before one of them thinks about filing the divorce. During this informal separation, the spouses informally agree on matters like child support, alimony, and other FSOs (family support obligations). They also informally agree on a parenting time schedule.

Unwritten arrangements are easy to make. However, they’re also subject to unilateral withdrawal. One spouse can quit paying money or picking up the kids every other weekend at any time. On a related note, informal arrangements are also unenforceable in court.

For this reason, especially as the weeks become months, many separated spouses formalize their status. A North Carolina separation agreement can include provisions like:

  • Child support
  • Spousal support
  • Property division
  • Bill payment 
  • Some inheritance matters

In fact, the only thing legal separation cannot do that a divorce can do is legally dissolve a marriage.

Procedurally, once the spouses live under different roofs, one spouse may file a petition for legal separation. Usually, the two Beaufort family law attorneys hammer out the details of the separation. If the spouses cannot agree, sometimes the judge holds a hearing and makes a decision. More often, however, the judge appoints a third-party mediator.

The mediator meets with both sides and listens to brief opening arguments from each spouse. Then, the spouses retire to separate rooms while the mediator conveys settlement offers and counter-offers back and forth between them. So, the parties have more control over the outcome, and there’s no emotional courtroom showdown.

Because of these benefits, mediation is also common in other civil cases, like personal injury cases and divorces. 

Frequently, legal separation and marriage dissolution go hand-in-hand. The legal separation order often becomes the divorce order. That’s especially true regarding child custody and visitation matters. So, the divorce paperwork often incorporates the legal separation paperwork by reference. That’s partially a convenience thing, and also a privacy thing. Divorce cases are public record, and not everyone wants their personal details to be publicly available.

DBB (divorce from bed and board) is an offshoot of legal separation. In most respects, these two procedures are the same. DBB is available if one spouse can prove the other spouse was guilty of drug abuse, adultery, or other very serious marital trauma. All divorces in North Carolina are no-fault divorces, so the infliction of marital trauma is usually irrelevant.

Absolute Divorce

This procedure, which is also known as just plain divorce, is legal separation on steroids. In addition to entering all property and other orders, the judge legally dissolved the marriage between the husband and wife.

As mentioned, no-fault divorces based on irreconcilable differences are the norm in North Carolina. A petitioner can also divorce a respondent if the respondent was legally insane. The medical diagnosis must be at least three years old. Furthermore, two medical specialists must testify the respondent is “incurably insane.” Quite frankly, we’ve never handled an insanity divorce. They’re that rare.

One spouse can file for divorce after their separation has lasted at least a year. Additionally, at least one spouse must have been a resident of North Carolina for at least the last six months.

If the spouses had a premarital agreement or were legally separated before they filed for divorce, a divorce is largely just paperwork, at least in many cases. Of course, that’s different if the emotional, financial, or other relevant circumstances of the spouses have materially and substantially changed. 

A social services investigation could change things as well. These investigations are very uncommon in legal separation matters. But they’re very common in divorces, especially if the spouses cannot agree on parenting time and other such matters. A social worker’s recommendation, which is based on an extensive investigation, isn’t technically binding. However, most Carteret County judges give these recommendations a lot of weight.

Contact an Experienced Carteret County Attorney

Legal separation and divorce orders must be in the best interests of the children, and they must result in a just and right property division. For a confidential consultation with an experienced family law attorney in Beaufort, contact Schulz Stephenson Law. Convenient payment plans are available.

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