Before filing for divorce in North Carolina, you must meet the following requirements:
- you have been separated from your spouse for one year, and
- you have lived in North Carolina for at least six months.
If you want the court to make decisions about child custody, alimony, spousal support or division of property, you must file for those before filing for divorce. If you file for divorce before settling these issues, you could lose your rights.
If you are uncertain of your rights or need help with your forms, you should ask a lawyer for help. Court clerks won't give legal advice or help you complete the forms, but you may be able to get free or reduced fee legal help from Legal Aid of North Carolina.
Assuming you have met the requirements for a divorce in North Carolina and want to file on your own, you must follow several steps to get a Divorce Order from the court.
Preparing Your Forms
To begin the process you must fill out the following documents:
You must also complete a "Complaint for Absolute Divorce." This form is not available through the courts. However, Legal Aid of North Carolina (Do It Yourself Divorce Packet) and the Self-Help Center of Mecklenburg County have forms available.
All of the forms will have blanks for “Plaintiff” and “Defendant.” The person asking the court for a divorce is the plaintiff, and the spouse responding to the divorce request is the defendant. Some of the forms must be signed while you are in front of a Notary Public. Do not sign the forms that require notarization until you are in front of a Notary Public.
After completing all the forms, make at least two copies of everything. The court will keep one copy, one copy will be delivered to your spouse, and you will want to keep at least one copy for your records.
Filing Your Forms
You will file your forms with the Clerk of Court’s office in the county where you live. The court will charge a fee to file the divorce papers. The costs may be found on the North Carolina Courts website or by calling your county’s Clerk of Court office. If you are unable to pay the fee, you may file a Petition to Sue/Appeal as an Indigent. If your petition is approved, all filing fees and service fees will be waived.
Serving Your Forms
A copy of your divorce paperwork must be delivered (“served”) to your spouse by the Sheriff’s Department in your county. The law does not allow you to serve your spouse. You must pay a service fee unless your fee is waived.
You must wait a full 30 days after the date your spouse is served before you can go forward with your case. The 30 days allows your spouse an opportunity to respond to or “answer” your divorce papers. Don't forget to contact the Sherriff’s Department to find out the exact date the papers were served - the Sheriff’s Department will not contact you to let you know.
The Divorce Hearing
After you confirm your spouse has been served and you have the date of service, you should return to the Clerk of Court’s office with a blank Notice of Hearing. The Clerk’s office will then schedule a date and time for your divorce hearing. You will fill in the hearing date and time on the Notice of Hearing and serve a copy of the form on your spouse at least 10 days before the hearing date. You may serve this form by First Class U.S. Mail or using the Sheriff’s Department server.
On the date of the hearing you must bring two copies of a Judgment of Absolute Divorce and a Certificate of Absolute Divorce with you to court. These forms are not available through the court, but you may get copies from Legal Aid of North Carolina (Do It Yourself Divorce Packet) or through the Self-Help Center of Mecklenburg County. During your hearing, the judge will ask you questions regarding your marriage and separation. At the end of the hearing, the judge will sign the divorce documents and your divorce will be final.