Although television often portrays divorce as a dramatic event that unfolds in a courtroom, the reality is often far different. Many couples try to work out their differences in an amicable way without resorting to lengthy disputes and emotional arguments. Although North Carolina family law does not contain any provisions that allow a divorcing couple to speed up the divorce process, it is possible to end your marriage fairly quickly if you can agree on all the issues.
The proper term for divorce in North Carolina is "absolute divorce." The word "absolute" has no special significance other than to indicate that the court terminated a couple's marriage permanently. In the majority of states, the courts generally refer to absolute divorce as "divorce."
Couples who wish to pursue an uncontested (simple) divorce can do so by filing "no-fault" grounds. In a no-fault divorce, the law doesn't require either spouse to prove that the other person caused the breakdown of the marriage. When couples don't need to point fingers, it makes the divorce process much faster and potentially less embarrassing. In today's society, no-fault divorce makes sense, considering most marriages do not break up for any specific reason. Instead, many couples simply grow apart or discover that they can't live together and be happy.
If you'd like to file for a no-fault absolute divorce in North Carolina, you and your spouse must have been separated and living apart for at least one year. (N.C. Gen. Stat. § 50-6.) State law requires that the spouses actually occupy separate residences during this time. At least one spouse must have also lived in North Carolina for a minimum of six months. (N.C. Gen. Stat. § 50-8.)
Filing the paperwork
The first step in every divorce case is for the filing spouse to complete and submit the required paperwork to the court. Each divorce must include the following:
The court requires the filing spouse to pay fees before the court accepts the filing. It's common to worry about how much a divorce will cost, but if you can't afford it, you can ask the court for help. The filing spouse can ask the court to let you file for free by submitting the form "Petition to proceed as an indigent" (Form AOC-G-106) to the court. If the judge approves your request, you will not have to pay filing fees in your case.
Serving your spouse
Once you submit your documents to the court, you'll need to provide a copy to your spouse. In North Carolina, you can't deliver the documents to your spouse yourself. Instead, you can ask the local sheriff's office to hand-deliver the documents for you, or you can request someone over the age of 18, not involved in your case, to serve the paperwork for you. If personal service isn't an option, you can mail the documents by registered or certified mail.
Once you serve your spouse, you'll need to complete and submit a "proof of service" form to the court. If you request the sheriff department to deliver the documents, the officer should complete the form and submit it for you.
The court requires "service" of legal paperwork to ensure that both spouses are aware of the pending divorce. To speed up the waiting period, divorcing couples can waive the service requirement along with the right to file an answer to the complaint.
In North Carolina, spouses must wait at least 30 days for a hearing following "service" of the divorce complaint on the non-filing party.
Request a hearing
Once the waiting period has passed, the court will schedule an initial hearing. If you and your spouse have agreed to all the outstanding issues in your case, you can submit your final documents to the court to obtain the divorce right away. The final documents are different from the paperwork you filed at the beginning of the case. Couples who wish to finalize their marriage at this initial hearing must submit the following documents:
As the name indicates, an uncontested divorce is just that—uncontested. You and your spouse must agree on all issues before the court will sign off on your documents. In an uncontested case, the court does not address issues such as property division and spousal support. Rather, you must agree to how you wish to handle these issues in a divorce settlement agreement. Because the separation agreement is a binding, enforceable contract, neither spouse can ask the court to modify it down the road unless you explicitly state in the contract that you can change it later.
Although divorce is generally not something most people enjoy, it does not have to be a traumatic event. If the spouses can agree on the issues in their case, they can obtain a divorce in a little over a month.
For more information on Divorce in North Carolina and access to a divorce packet with forms, visit the North Carolina Judicial Branch website.
Read the North Carolina Statutes, Section 50, regarding Divorce.