Divorce in North Carolina: Everything You Need to Know

1 min readLast updated March 26, 2024by Unbiased team

This article will help you learn more about the processes and costs of divorce proceedings in North Carolina.

Summary

  • North Carolina recognizes both “fault-based” and “no-fault” grounds for divorces. 

  • Absolute divorce is the most common form of divorce in North Carolina and does not require proof of fault.

  • To file for divorce in North Carolina, you need to ensure at least one spouse has been a resident of North Carolina for a minimum of six months.

  • A financial advisor can help you protect your finances through a divorce and develop a long-term plan to rebuild afterward. 

What are the different types of divorce in North Carolina?

Divorce in North Carolina is divided into different categories, each with distinct processes and implications. 

Two of the most common types of divorces are absolute divorce and divorce from bed and board: 

  1. Absolute divorce: This legally ends the marriage, allowing both parties to remarry. It is the most common form of divorce in North Carolina and does not require proof of fault.

  2. Divorce from bed and board: Despite its name, this is not an actual divorce but a form of legal separation granted on fault-based grounds. It does not dissolve the marriage but can lead to separation agreements and precede an absolute divorce.

The grounds for divorce in North Carolina play a critical role, especially when deciding on alimony, child custody, and post-separation support. 

Here is a breakdown of the grounds for divorce and what is involved in each:

  • No-fault grounds: For an absolute divorce, no-fault grounds are applied. The divorcing couple is required to have lived separately for over a year, with at least one spouse being a resident of the state for a minimum of six months prior to filing.

  • Fault-based grounds: These are relevant for divorce from bed and board and include:

    • Abandonment: Leaving the marital home without agreement or reason.

    • Substance abuse: Excessive use of alcohol or drugs that pose a danger to the spouse.

    • Adultery: Having a sexual relationship outside the marriage.

    • Intolerable treatment: Behavior that makes cohabitation unbearable, including physical, emotional, or psychological abuse.

How much does a divorce cost in North Carolina?

The cost of divorce in North Carolina can vary, depending on a whole host of issues, including whether the divorce is contested and the complexity of the legal issues involved.

Here are some of the most common costs associated with divorce in North Carolina:

  • Filing Fees: Expect to start with a court filing fee of approximately $225.

  • Attorney Fees: On average, legal fees for divorce attorneys in North Carolina range from $9,700 to $11,800. However, costs can be significantly lower for uncontested divorces where both parties agree on the terms.

  • Additional Costs: Costs may also arise from mediation, document handling, and court interventions for child custody or asset division. Financial aid and pro bono services are available for those who qualify, potentially reducing expenses.

Here are ways to reduce costs during a divorce if you’re looking to keep expenses to a minimum. Opting for an uncontested divorce is one way to achieve this. Here, you can bypass court hearings altogether, which is where costs really ramp up.  

How do you file for divorce in North Carolina?

Like elsewhere in the US, filing for divorce in North Carolina involves several key steps. You must complete these to ensure the process is legally sound and correctly initiated. 

Here's a breakdown of some of the key steps involved: 

  1. Meet residency and separation requirements: Ensure at least one spouse has been a resident of North Carolina for a minimum of six months and that you have lived separately for over a year.

  2. Prepare the divorce papers: Complete the necessary forms for filing for divorce. These are available from the North Carolina court system's website or at your local courthouse.

  3. File the divorce papers: Submit your completed forms to the county clerk's office where either spouse resides. Along with your forms, you'll need to pay the filing fee.

  4. Serve your spouse: After filing, legally notify your spouse of the divorce action by serving them with the divorce papers. This can be done through certified mail, sheriff's delivery, or by a process server.

  5. Wait for a response: Your spouse has 30 days to respond. If they agree or fail to respond, you can proceed with the divorce. If they contest, you may need to prepare for mediation or court.

  6. Finalize the divorce: Once all issues are resolved, whether through agreement or court ruling, you can finalize the divorce by obtaining a divorce decree from the court.

How do you split assets in a divorce in North Carolina?

North Carolina is an equitable distribution state, meaning asset division during divorce is guided by this principle. This process is designed to divide marital property fairly, but not always equally, between spouses.

When splitting assets, you first have to differentiate between marital property (acquired during the marriage) and separate property (owned prior to marriage or received as a gift/inheritance).

Typically, only marital property is split. 

Spouses can agree on a division plan or, failing that, the court decides, aiming for the fairest outcome.

While the law prefers an equal split of marital assets, this is a starting point, not a strict rule.

Courts may adjust the division to be unequal if it's deemed more equitable, considering factors like each spouse's financial status, contributions to the marriage, length of the marriage, and any marital misconduct affecting finances.

How does alimony work in North Carolina?

Alimony in North Carolina addresses financial disparities between spouses post-divorce.

Alimony is never guaranteed, and when deciding if they will award it, the court will consider a number of different factors, such as: 

  1. Eligibility: This is determined by one spouse's need and the other's ability to pay. It also factors in any marital misconduct.

  2. Type of alimony payment: Alimony can take different forms. It can be a lump sum or periodic payment with a specified or unspecified term. Decisions on payment structure consider the divorce's unique circumstances.

  3. Termination: Alimony ends upon either party's death or if the recipient remarries or cohabitates with a new partner.

  4. Other awarded costs: The court may order the paying spouse to cover the recipient's legal fees, reinforcing the support mechanism.

  5. Future modifications: Significant life changes can prompt a review and adjustment of alimony terms.

What happens to children during a divorce in North Carolina?

In North Carolina, the children's welfare is paramount in divorce proceedings, with a strong emphasis on ensuring their best interests are met regarding custody, support, and visitation.

Initially, both parents are considered to have equal rights to the care, custody, and control of their minor children and parents are encouraged to work together to develop a parenting plan that outlines custody and visitation, promoting a stable and supportive environment for the child amidst the changes.

If the parents cannot work out a plan, the court will intervene and make a ruling on the following issues:

  • Custody and visitation

Custody decisions are made based on the child's best interests, with considerations including each parent's relationship with the child, the child’s age, and each parent's capacity to meet the child’s needs.

  • Child support 

North Carolina employs a formula for determining child support, which takes into account both parents' incomes, childcare expenses, health insurance costs, and any special needs of the child. This formula aims to distribute financial responsibility equitably between the parents, ensuring the child's needs are adequately met.

If circumstances significantly change, custody and support orders can be modified to better serve the child's interests, focusing on their safety, health, and emotional well-being.

Get expert financial advice

A financial advisor can help you assess your current financial status, create a post-divorce budget, and develop a long-term financial plan that aligns with your needs and goals.

Unbiased can connect you with a financial advisor who meets your needs. 

Simply provide some details about what you’re looking for, and Unbiased’s platform will match you with your advisor.

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Unbiased team

Our team of writers, who have decades of experience writing about personal finance, including investing and retirement, are here to help you find out what you must know about life’s biggest financial decisions.