For some couples, dissolving a marriage is as straight-forward as compiling the paperwork; for others, it is an emotional matter fraught with legal difficulties. Though the process is similar nationwide, there are unique legal points in North Carolina.
Will You Require an Attorney?
Some spouses—those without children and in marriages of short duration—can complete required documentation without the assistance of an attorney. Hiring an attorney to review the case, though, can help individuals sidestep current and future complications.
Grounds for Divorce
In North Carolina, the parties must reside separately for a year and a day in order to divorce, and a six-month residency requirement must be met prior to the separation. The only additional grounds for divorce is incurable insanity and three years' separation.
One option for those wishing to avoid divorce for religious reasons is to live apart and file a separation agreement that settles property and support issues.
Another possibility is annulling the marriage, which is faster than finalizing a divorce, though annulments are rare. Except in cases of bigamy, annulments never are granted after cohabitation or the birth of a child. Grounds for annulment, which invalidates the marriage from the start, include close blood relationships, false pretenses and impotence.
Couples frequently turn to mediation after they realize that a drawn-out legal battle is expensive and emotionally exhausting. Mediation, which involves discussing differences before a neutral party, allows major issues to be settled as quickly as within a day.
A number of orders can be entered prior to the divorce, and because of North Carolina's lengthy separation requirement, couples often formulate property and separation agreements outlining key matters such as custody, support and visitation. Spouses who fear violence can request protective orders as well.
Custody and Support in North Carolina
Child custody includes physical living arrangements and legal decision-making ability. It is not uncommon for one parent to have sole physical custody, but it is unusual for one to have full legal custody. Often parents will agree on arrangements; if they cannot, a judge decides.
Legal guidelines establish parameters for child support, though there is judicial latitude, often coming into play for very high or very low income families. While parenting time is a factor in determining support, legally the two are separate issues—in other words, one parent cannot withhold visitation if the other is in arrears on support.
Property and Debts
North Carolina is an "equitable distribution" state—usually, distribution of marital assets and debts is equal, but a judge has the latitude to allocate differently if 50-50 would be unfair. The property settlement process includes identifying marital assets—gifts bestowed to an individual, for example, usually are individual assets. The next step is valuation, which is determining how much assets are worth.
Because of the extreme expense involved, medical payments can be as contentious as child support. The state requires parents to split uncovered expenses in excess of $100 a year, and if one parent has been providing insurance, usually that parent will be ordered to continue to do so.
Final Orders and Beyond
Most issues are permanently resolved once the final order is granted, but if circumstances change, one party can request alterations in custody, visitation or support orders after the divorce is finalized. A spouse who wants to change the married name can do so after the divorce, though such requests usually are included in the final order.
Seeking a Divorce in North Carolina
This article provides a general summary of North Carolina divorce law. Consult a local North Carolina divorce lawyer for advice about a specific situation.