How to File for Divorce in North Carolina (Step by Step)

Woman holding divorce papers and looking for information on her phone

To file for divorce in North Carolina without involving lawyers, follow these general guidelines:

  1. Meet the state’s residency requirements.
  2. Gather required documents such as marriage certificate and financial records.
  3. Obtain and complete the necessary forms from the county clerk’s office.
  4. File the completed forms with the clerk’s office.
  5. Serve divorce papers to your spouse according to state guidelines. Attend court hearings as required.

If you wonder how to file for divorce in NC, there are several factors to consider. The divorce process will depend on whether spouses blame each other for the marriage breakdown, have unresolved issues regarding property division and custody of children, require legal representation, etc. The steps to getting a divorce in North Carolina presented below will help you cope with the divorce process more efficiently.

Step 1. Meet the Residency Requirement

According to North Carolina divorce requirements, at least one spouse should live in the state for no less than half a year before they can apply for divorce. You can file in any court that deals with family matters in your or your spouse’s county of residence. If these requirements are not met, there is no other way how to get a divorce in North Carolina since the state courts cannot decide on your case.

Infographic on Options to Consider if You Don’t Meet the North Carolina Residence Requirements
Things to consider if you don’t meet the North Carolina residency requirements for divorce

Step 2. Determine the Type of Divorce  

types of divorce in north carolina
Types of divorce in North Carolina

In North Carolina, spouses can divorce with or without fault. No-fault divorces are absolute; after their consideration in court, the judge signs a Judgment of Absolute Divorce, and the marriage is officially over. Absolute divorce is possible in cases where you have voluntarily decided to end the marital relationship, or the other party is recognized as insane.

A fault divorce is called a divorce from bed and board. It is an intermediate step of marriage termination when one of the spouses blames the other for the breakdown of marital relations and requires a court order for separation. It does not end the marriage, though. Reasons for such a divorce can be:

  • accusations of one spouse in barbarous treatment,
  • alcohol and drug abuse,
  • adultery,
  • desertion or abandonment,
  • indignities.

In North Carolina, divorce procedure, in this case, will take place in two stages:

  • first, you will get a divorce from bed and board, or a court-ordered separation
  • after a 1-year separation, you can file for an absolute divorce.

Step 3. Separation Period

Separation period in the divorce process in NC
Couple going through separation period in NC

NC divorce separation period begins when spouses stop living together. This separation may result from at least one spouse’s desire to live separately and apart or from the court order. During the separation period, spouses need to live in different residences; residing in the same house, though in different rooms, is not a separation.  

According to divorce laws in North Carolina, the separation period for absolute divorce is one year and one day. If spouses start living together again during this time and then break up, the waiting period will start over.

An exception to the general rule is the insanity of one spouse, due to which the couple has not lived together for three years. If the diagnosis is confirmed, the filing spouse is not required to wait additional 12 months to start a divorce.

If spouses get a divorce from bed and board, they should also be separated for a year and one day before filing for absolute divorce.

Step 4. Prepare & File the Complaint for Divorce

To file for divorce in North Carolina, you must prepare and submit divorce documents to the court clerk’s office. The mandatory papers include, but are not limited to:

  1. Complaint for Absolute Divorce.
  2. Domestic Civil Action Cover Sheet.
  3. Civil Summons.
  4. Judgment of Absolute Divorce.
  5. Notice of Hearing.

It is necessary to sign the documents and have some of them notarized, as per the legal court requirements. Also, you should make copies of documents; check with the court clerk the exact number of copies required for each form.

check eligibility for divorce

Step 5. Serve the Complaint

How to serve divorce papers to your spouse in NC
Serving spouse with divorce papers

After filing for divorce, you must serve the other party with the Summons and Complaint for Absolute Divorce. You cannot do it yourself but can use one of the following methods of service:

  • by the sheriff – be ready to cover the serving fee of $30. After they deliver the papers, they will make a note on the Summons and submit the form to the court.
  • by certified mail – you will receive a green card confirming that the other party got the documents. It should be filed with the court.
  • by publication – if the other party’s location is unknown, you can serve them by publishing an announcement in the newspaper.
  • Acceptance of Service – if spouses agree on the divorce terms and file for uncontested marriage termination, a respondent may sign and notarize the Acceptance of Service.

Step 6. Complete the Waiting Period

manadotory waiting period for divorce
Wait for a mandatory 30-day period

One of the necessary steps of the North Carolina divorce process is waiting till a mandatory 30-day period is over. It begins from the moment the divorce papers are served to the respondent. Within this timeframe, they should file an answer or counterclaim. After the waiting period is completed, the court clerk will schedule a hearing.

Step 7. Get you Divorce Finalized

The final divorce stage is the court hearing. The judge will ask you to confirm your desire to divorce, check if the separate living condition and residency requirements are met, and pay attention to the agreement you’ve reached with your spouse on alimony, division of property, custody of children, etc.

The judge will sign the Judgment of Absolute Divorce. After that, the court clerk will prepare a Certificate of Absolute Divorce in North Carolina that is official proof that you are divorced.

The Bottom Line

You can initiate the divorce if you and your spouse have been living separately for one year, and at least one spouse resides in the state for 6 months.

You will need to prepare documents, sign, and notarize them. If you file for an uncontested no-fault divorce, you can order your paperwork from an online divorce service. In addition to a full set of divorce forms, you will also receive detailed filing instructions to get your online divorce in North Carolina quickly and efficiently.

Divorce papers should then be served to the other spouse, who should file the answer or counterclaim. After the waiting period is over, you can contact the court to set a hearing date for your case. You will get the Judgment of Absolute Divorce signed at the final hearing, and your marriage termination process will be finalized.

check eligibility for divorce

Commonly Asked Questions

What is the 30-day waiver for divorce in NC?

If spouses are cooperative and do not contest the divorce, the 30-day waiting period can be waived if the respondent signs the Waiver and Answer form and files it with the court’s clerk.

How long does it take to get an uncontested divorce in NC?

An uncontested no-fault divorce usually takes 30 to 90 days, not including the mandatory year of a separate residence.

How much does it cost to file for an uncontested divorce in North Carolina?

To file the divorce papers with the court, you will need to cover a mandatory filing fee of $225.

Do you have to go to court for an uncontested divorce in NC?

In cases where spouses have no contentious issues on property division, alimony, etc., they will likely need to attend only a final hearing where the divorce case will be finalized.