Uncontested Divorce in North Carolina

North Carolina has four basic requirements for couples wanting to get an uncontested divorce.

By , Attorney · UC Berkeley School of Law

Divorce can be stressful even under the best of circumstances. But it doesn't have to involve a drawn-out, expensive court battle. If you and your spouse can agree on how you'll deal with the legal, financial, and practical details involved in ending your marriage, you can save money and time by getting an uncontested divorce in North Carolina.

How to Qualify for an Uncontested Divorce in North Carolina

If you want to file for an uncontested divorce (sometimes called an "absolute divorce") in North Carolina, you must meet four basic requirements: the mandatory separation period, the residency requirement, agreement on the reason for your divorce, and agreement on the issues in your case.

North Carolina's Mandatory Separation Period

A married couple can't get a divorce in North Carolina until they have lived separate and apart for at least one year. If there's any question about whether the couple was truly separated for the whole year, the court will look at the "totality of the circumstances" to make a decision. If the spouses engage in isolated incidents of sexual intercourse during their separation period, it won't necessarily mean that they have broken the required separation period. (N.C. Gen. Stat. §§ 50-6, 52-10.2 (2022).)

North Carolina's Residency Requirement for Divorce

After the required year of separation has passed, either spouse can file for divorce in North Carolina, as long as one of them has lived in the state for at least six months. (N.C. Gen. Stat. § 50-6 (2022).)

Agreement on the Legal Reason for Divorce

You must have a legally accepted reason (or "ground") to get divorced in any state. North Carolina allows only "no-fault" divorce, so you don't need to claim that one spouse's behavior—such as committing adultery or being cruel—caused the marriage to end.

There are two no-fault grounds for divorce in North Carolina. The spouses must demonstrate that they:

  • have lived separate and apart for more than one year, or
  • have lived separate and apart for three consecutive years because of the incurable insanity of one of them.

(N.C. Gen. Stat. §§ 50-6, 50-5.1 (2022).) Most couples who file for an uncontested divorce use the grounds of having been separated for more than a year.

Agreement on the Issues in Your Divorce

Before you file for an uncontested divorce, you and your spouse will need to work out agreements on all the issues in your case, including:

If you're having trouble agreeing about any of these issues—or any other matters you want to address in your divorce—mediation might help find solutions that work for both you and your spouse. Most mediators will prepare a document that reflects any agreements you've reached during the process. You can use this document to prepare your written marital settlement agreement.

Preparing the Uncontested Divorce Forms

In most North Carolina courts, you'll need to file the following:

These are the basic forms to get started with a North Carolina divorce; depending on your situation you might have to file different or additional forms (relating to topics such as child custody or alimony). Check with the clerk of the court to confirm what forms are required.

To simplify matters, you could instead file for divorce online with a service that will complete the proper uncontested divorce forms for you, based on your answers to a questionnaire. These services will typically also help you create a settlement agreement or stipulation (and some will take care of filing the divorce papers for an additional fee).

If you'd like to DIY your divorce, take a look at the North Carolina Judicial Branch's website for more information. The North Carolina Divorce Packet and Legal Aid of North Carolina's Divorce Packet also provide detailed instructions on how to file a divorce.

Filing Your Uncontested Divorce Paperwork

You will need to file your divorce paperwork with the clerk of the court in the county in which you or your spouse lives. (You'll be filing in the General Court of Justice Civil District Division.)

Along with filing the right paperwork, you'll have to pay court filing fees to begin your divorce. As of 2022, the filing fees for an absolute divorce in North Carolina total $225.

If you can't afford to pay the filing fees, you can ask the court or a waiver. To request a fee waiver, file a Petition to Proceed as an Indigent. If the court grants the petition, you won't have to pay any court filing fees or a service of process fee to the sheriff (see below for more information about serving your spouse). File your Petition to Proceed as an Indigent at the same time you file your complaint.

Serving the Divorce Paperwork

Once you file the paperwork, you'll need to provide notice of the divorce to your spouse by "serving" them with a copy of the divorce paperwork. In an uncontested divorce, you can avoid having to serve the paperwork if your spouse signs and files an Acceptance of Service form. To move things along even more quickly, your spouse can file a Waiver and Answer form—this form waives notice of the complaint, admits the allegations stated in the complaint, and waives the right to a hearing (although the court will likely schedule a final hearing on the matter despite the waiver).

If your spouse isn't willing to sign a waiver of service, you can use one of the following methods of service:

  • Service by sheriff. This is the most straightforward method of service in North Carolina, and it costs $30. In some courts, you can pay the fee to the court clerk at the same time you file your complaint, and the clerk will provide the sheriff with the paperwork to serve on your spouse. In other courts, you might have to deliver the fee and paperwork to the sheriff yourself.
  • Service by certified mail. You can serve your spouse by sending the paperwork via certified mail with a return receipt requested. After the post office delivers the paperwork, you'll receive a receipt that provides proof that your spouse was served. File an Affidavit of Service along with the receipt with the court.
  • Service by publication. If you don't know where your spouse is, ask the court or clerk if you can serve "by publication." In most cases, this means placing a notice about the pending divorce in a newspaper.

How Long Does It Take to Get an Uncontested Divorce in North Carolina?

Unlike some other states, there isn't a required waiting period between when you file the divorce and when the court can begin to process your case. However, you will have to wait at least 30 days after your spouse has been served with the paperwork to get a court date from the clerk's office. Or, if your spouse filed a waiver of service, you can get a court date as soon as the answer is filed. As mentioned above, the process can move faster if your spouse files a Waiver and Answer form.

How long you'll have to wait for a hearing depends on the court's schedule. Once you get a date, you'll have to serve your spouse with a Notice of Hearing form at least 10 days before the hearing. If the judge approves your paperwork, the court might finalize your divorce at the hearing.

How Much Does an Uncontested Divorce Cost in North Carolina?

As a rule, uncontested divorce is a lot cheaper than a traditional, contested divorce. That's because many couples can get through the uncontested divorce process without hiring lawyers to represent them—which leads to big savings on the normal cost of divorce.

The basic expense for an uncontested divorce will be the court fee ($225) to file the divorce papers. To have a sheriff serve the divorce papers on your spouse, it's another $30, and if you want to restore your former name after the divorce, the fee is $10.

Beyond these court costs and fees, your costs will depend on whether you get a "pure" do-it-yourself divorce or you need some help with the process.

  • Online divorce services typically charge between $150 and $500 for providing and completing the divorce forms and settlement agreement.
  • If you need help to reach a settlement agreement, the cost of divorce mediation can vary widely, depending on the number and complexity of the issues to be worked out. Typical costs range from about $3,000 to $8,000, with each spouse paying half.
  • If you're splitting retirement accounts related to your employment (like a 401(k) or pension), you'll probably need to pay a few hundred dollars to have an expert prepare the necessary special court order known as a "qualified domestic relations order" (QDRO).
  • If possible, it's always a good idea to have an attorney review your settlement agreement to be sure that it's fair and protects your rights. In some cases, it might make sense to have a lawyer or other expert actually draft the agreement, particularly if you have complicated financial assets. The cost will depend on the lawyer's hourly rate and the amount of time involved, but it should be significantly less than paying an attorney to handle all of the legal matters in your divorce.