If you're ready to divorce your spouse, there are specific procedures you need to follow. Before you rush to the courthouse to file for divorce, make sure that you meet North Carolina's eligibility requirements. Specifically, you or your spouse must have been separated for at least one year and lived in North Carolina for at least six months before filing for divorce in the state. See N.C. Gen. Stat. § 50-6 (2019).
If you want the court to make decisions about child custody, alimony, child support, or division of property, you must make those requests in your divorce petition. You and your spouse can also reach a settlement agreement on your own or with the help of a mediator.
If you're not certain 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 fill out 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 obtain a divorce order from the court.
To begin the process you must fill out a "Domestic Civil Action Cover Sheet" and "Civil Summons." You must also complete a "Complaint for Absolute Divorce." The North Carolina Judicial Branch publishes a divorce pamphlet with forms and instructions. Additionally, Legal Aid of North Carolina publishes its own Do It Yourself Divorce Packet.
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.
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.
You will file your forms with the court clerk's office in the county where you live. You'll also need to pay a filing fee at the time you file your papers. A list of current filing fees may be found on the fee section of 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 Proceed as an Indigent. If your petition is approved, all filing fees and service fees will be waived.
A copy of your divorce paperwork must be delivered ("served") to your spouse by the a sheriff in your county, licensed process server, or non-party over the age of 18. You'll need to pay the sheriff or process server a service fee unless your fee is waived.
Generally, you're prohibited from delivering the divorce documents unless your spouse has agreed to accept service from you. If there is an agreement, your spouse will need to complete an Acceptance/Waiver of Service form for you to file with the court.
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. You can contact your local sheriff's office or the process server to find out the exact date the papers were served.
After you confirm your spouse has been served and you have the date of service, you should return a blank "Notice of Hearing" to the Clerk's Office. The clerk 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, using a process server, or asking the Sheriff's Department to handle it.
You must bring two copies of a "Judgment of Absolute Divorce" and a "Certificate of Absolute Divorce" with you to your hearing. During your hearing, the judge will ask you questions regarding your marriage and separation. At the end of the hearing, the judge will likely sign the divorce documents and finalize your divorce.
For more information about the divorce process and related issues, read our section on North Carolina Divorce and Family Law.
Additionally, Legal Aid of North Carolina runs free divorce clinics and provides free legal services to individuals who qualify. You can find out more about Legal Aid's divorce clinics by visiting the divorce clinic website or calling the helpline at 1-866-219-5262.