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North Carolina Divorce Process
Preparing the Divorce Papers
To begin the action, the plaintiff completes a Complaint for Absolute Divorce, a Domestic Civil Action Cover Sheet, and a civil Summons.
After completing all the forms, the plaintiff makes at least two copies of everything. The court keeps one copy, one copy goes to the defendant, and the plaintiff keeps one for his or her records.
Filing the Paperwork with the Court
The defendant files the divorce papers with the Clerk of Court’s office in the county where he or she lives. The court charges a fee to file the divorce papers, which may be found on the North Carolina Courts website or by calling the county’s Clerk of Court office. If the plaintiff is unable to pay the fee, he or she files a Petition to Sue/Appeal as an Indigent. If the petition is approved, all filing fees and service fees are waived.
Serving the Documents
The Sheriff’s Department in the plaintiff’s home county must deliver a copy of the divorce paperwork to the spouse. The law does not allow the plaintiff to serve the defendant. The plaintiff pays a service fee unless it is waived. The plaintiff waits 30 days after the date of service before moving forward with the case. The 30 days allows the defendant an opportunity to respond to the divorce papers. The plaintiff should contact the Sherriff’s Department to find out the exact date the papers were served because the Sheriff’s Department does not contact the plaintiff to let him or her know.
Disclosing Financial Information
In North Carolina, the divorce financial disclosures depend in large part on what type of relief is requested. Where Child Support is at issue, one set of documents is required, where spousal support is at issue, another set of documents must be provided, and when the parties must divide up property and debts, a whole other list of documents must be provided.
Uncontested vs. Contested Divorce
An absolute divorce is different from the divorce from bed and board, which requires some showing of fault by one spouse, such as abandonment, adultery or substance abuse, among others. The spouse without fault can then petition the court for judicial separation, effectively asking the court to kick the offending spouse out of the family residence. However, resuming cohabitation after a bed and board divorce can nullify the divorce under North Carolina law. Absolute divorce, by contrast, severs all marriage rights.
Finalizing the Divorce
After confirming that the defendant has been served, the plaintiff 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 the divorce hearing. The plaintiff completes the Notice of Hearing (filing in the time and date) and serves a copy of the form to the defendant at least 10 days before the hearing date using First Class U.S. Mail or the Sheriff’s Department server.
On the date of the hearing the plaintiff brings two copies of a Judgment of Absolute Divorce and a Certificate of Absolute Divorce to court. These forms are not available through the court, but they may be obtained from Legal Aid of North Carolina.
After filing, the minimum time to finalize a divorce is 30-60 days (assuming the 365-day separation requirement, for a no-fault divorce, has been met).
A North Carolina absolute divorce decree is not finalized until the court has dealt with all issues of the marriage, such as decisions about custody of children, and awards of child and spousal support. However, once an absolute divorce has been finalized, the marriage is effectively ended and either party is now free to remarry.
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