5 Steps on How to File for Divorce in North Carolina

    Getting a Divorce can be a lengthy and tiresome process for the couple involved. They have to focus on making rational decisions while keeping their emotions in check. It is essential to complete all formalities properly to avoid any rejection or dismissal. 

    To help you understand the divorce process in North Carolina, we have divided the procedure into 5 easy steps. Following these steps will help you complete your application correctly. So, without further ado, here are the five steps: 

    1. Pre-work

    Requirements for Divorce

    According to North Carolina law, the petitioner and their spouse must meet certain qualifications to be eligible to apply for a divorce: 

    • Either spouse must reside in North Carolina for a minimum of 6 months. 
    • The couple must live separately for a minimum of 12 months.

    If you and your partner meet these two criteria, you can start filing for divorce at the local Court. 

    Grounds for Divorce 

    In North Carolina, the court approves the following grounds for divorce

    • Separation: Couples may apply for a no-fault divorce if they have lived separately for over a year. 
    • Insanity: If one of the partners is proven to be mentally unfit, the other spouse can apply for a divorce on this ground. 

    Average Cost of Divorce

    Generally, the petitioner only has to pay a filing fee, which is to be submitted with the application forms. This fee will not cover other expenses like notary services, court fees, postage, and more. Moreover, the cost of divorce increases significantly if the couple hires a lawyer. 

    There are three different ways of getting a divorce, which also determines your overall expenses. These are: 

    • Online Divorce 

    Based on the online divorce service you pick, your expenses can range from $150 up to around $1500. This fee is charged separately from the court filing fee. Moreover, these services tailor their offerings according to the person’s requirements. Upon adding additional features, the service providers may charge extra. This could include preparing a settlement agreement, including a parenting plan and child custody and consulting services. 

    • Hiring a Lawyer

    Getting legal professional support can be a blessing in the divorce phase. However, hiring a lawyer in North Carolina can be an expensive decision. Typically, the attorney charges from $100 to $300 per hour based on their experience. 

    Even if you have a simple case, you might end up paying at least $1500 or more. And this price can go much higher if the case is complex and lengthy, such as in a contested divorce that goes to trial. A quick tip is to ensure you negotiate on the final price in advance to avoid hidden fees and a surprise bill at the case end. 

    • DIY Divorce

    Do It Yourself Divorce is another cost-effective option for couples filing for divorce. It is also a more time-saving way of completing the process. If both you and your partner are in agreement on the terms of your divorce, this could be the best option for you. 


    How long does it take?

    When filing for divorce in North Carolina, you might have to wait for at least a year to get the final judgment. However, this is because the couple has to stay separately for at least a year to qualify. Furthermore, after the petitioner presents the application to the court, the respondent will have 1 month to respond. 

    If the couple does not agree on the divorce terms, the negotiations over contested issues can take several months to over a year. Issues that often cause disagreements in the divorce process include: 

    • Child Custody, Visitation, & Support 
    • Property Division 
    • Alimony

    The average time to complete a divorce with at least one unresolved issue is 12 months. Moreover, if the couple has a child, it could be stretched to 15 months. This is because providing custody is an important decision for the court. 

    If you and your partner are clear on these aspects, you qualify for an uncontested divorce. This opens up the option to do a DIY divorce without legal representation and seek assistance from an online divorce service. 

    2. Preparing the Forms

    The second step in the process is filling out the required forms. These will include Complaint for Absolute Divorce, Domestic Civil Action Cover Sheet, and Civil Summons forms. For more information, you can go through the Divorce Pamphlet published by the North Carolina Judicial Branch. 

    This pamphlet will provide you with information on all required forms and other necessary instructions. It also provides recommendations and guidance on a DIY Divorce proceeding. If you want to skip the trouble of searching, keep reading to know all about these forms in the below section. 

    You should always make two copies of each document: one for the spouse filing for divorce (also known as the Plaintiff or petitioner) and one for the non-filing spouse (also known as the Defendant or respondent). The original divorce papers will be filed with the court for their records. Also, remember that all forms must be signed in the presence of a Notary. 

    Forms Required 

    Here is a list of common forms that the couple has to fill out when filing for divorce: 

    • Complaint: These forms are of two types- A and B. The Complaint A form is for couples with no children. Complaint B is for couples with children, as it will require you to provide additional information about the same. 
    • Verification: This form is quite similar to the Affidavits. Once you fill and sign this form, you will be ensuring that every piece of information provided by you is true, accurate, and complete. This form is crucial as it verifies the data provided. Furthermore, you will have to get a Notary Public signature before submitting this form to the Court. 
    • Civil Summons: This document is assigned to inform the respondent about the divorce application. The form provides information to the server about the paperwork they need to deliver to the spouse. During the summons, the server will be responsible for filing the proof of service document, which will showcase that the spouse has legally served the required documents to the court. 
    • Civil Action Cover Sheet: For any civil action, the Civil Action Cover Sheet is required to summarize the important elements for filing for divorce in a standard format. This form is advised by the Administrative Office of the Courts in North Carolina. 
    • The Petition to Sue/Appeal as an Indigent: By filling this form, you will be applying for a waiver in the filing fees and service fees. This can be due to any reason or financial crisis. Along with this form, you will also have to submit an Affidavit of Indigency. 

    3. Filing the Documents

    The couples can submit the completed forms to the Court Clerk’s Office of North Carolina. Additionally, you will also have to provide a complete payment of the filing fee. To know the latest fee, you can go through the North Carolina Court’s official website. Or you can also contact the Court Clerk’s Office. 

    Moreover, sometimes the couples are financially incapable of paying this amount. In this case, they can file a Petition to Proceed as an Indigent. If the appeal gets approved, the filing and service fees will be waived. 

    4. Serving the Documents

    Serving is the process of delivering a copy of the filed divorce papers and forms to the spouse. This task is completed by the County Sheriff, a third-party member over 18 years of age, or a Licensed Process Server. Unless the service charges are waived, you will have to pay the server or sheriff a fee. 

    Normally, the petitioner does not deliver the divorce documents. However, if the spouse has agreed to receive these from the former, they can serve the respondent. Furthermore, in such an arrangement, the partner will have to present an Acceptance/Waiver of Service to the court. 

    After serving, you will have to wait for around 30 days to let the other party decide and respond to the papers. During this period, they can contact their own lawyer or decide to proceed without an attorney. 

    5. The Divorce Hearing

    After receiving a defendant’s response, the last step in filing for divorce is to wait for the court hearing. Once the documents are served, you will have to provide a blank Notice of Hearing to the County Clerk’s Office. The Clerk will be responsible for selecting and appointing a date. 

    The officer will also provide you with a Notice of Hearing copy to be shared with your partner. Make sure that the notice is shared with your spouse at least 10 days before the hearing. The plaintiff can ask the Sheriff’s Department or Process Server to perform this task or send the copy via First-Class U.S. Mail.

    You are further requested to carry 2 copies of the Certificate of Absolute Divorce and Judgment of Absolute Divorce each to the hearing. During the hearing, the judge will ask you certain questions related to your application and case. If everything goes as expected, the judge may sign the divorce documents to finalize the separation.

    Bottom Line

    Divorce is a complicated process, especially when you are proceeding without an attorney. However, if you take well-informed steps, you can make this process easier for you and your spouse. Use these 5 steps on filing for divorce in North Carolina as a guide. If followed correctly, you might not need a lawyer to back you up.