What Is an Absolute Divorce in North Carolina?

When people start thinking about getting a divorce in North Carolina, they often start their research by looking for information online. Once they started researching, they likely encounter some seemingly confusing terminology.

One reason for the confusion is that each state has its own divorce laws. In some states, for example, you don’t have to live separate and apart from your spouse for any length of time before you can file for divorce. In other states, such as North Carolina, there is a required separation period.

Similar to other states, North Carolina has its own terminology for a divorce, which is why it’s important to speak with an experienced North Carolina divorce attorney to walk you through the process. One of the terms you might have come across while researching is an “absolute divorce.” An absolute divorce simply means a divorce in the way most people think of one — ending a marriage — with the couple entering into a legal document to divide their assets and debts, along with other important matters. 

Steps for Getting an Absolute Divorce in North Carolina  

If you’re considering filing for an absolute divorce in North Carolina, it’s important to understand how the process works. Since you may not be aware of the specific rules in North Carolina for filing a divorce, here are a few of the most important things to remember.

Living Separate and Apart for One Year 

One of the first things you need to know about getting a divorce in North Carolina is there is a mandatory one-year separation period. This timeframe can sometimes be confusing to people.

First, you don’t need to file any sort of document with the court proving you and your spouse have separated. However, you also cannot tell the court you and your spouse have lived separate and apart for one year if you really haven’t separated.

Under North Carolina law, the spouses must live in separate residences. It is not enough for one spouse to just use a section of the house or a separate bedroom. For most people, the best way to accomplish this is by having one spouse move out of the shared home and rent a separate apartment. You must live apart like this for at least one full year before you are able to file for an absolute divorce. 

Additionally, at least one party must have lived in North Carolina for a minimum of six months prior to filing for divorce.

This requirement is important to note if you or your spouse plan to relocate out of state with parents or a friend, especially if neither of you can afford separate residences. If relocating will mean that you interrupt your six-month residency period in North Carolina, it’s in your best interest to make other arrangements or speak to a Raleigh divorce attorney before making any decisions. 

For spouses who separate, then temporarily move back in together but end up separating again, they often wonder if it will affect their timeframe for being able to file for an absolute divorce. This is a normal question, as couples sometimes try to reconcile when they are going through a difficult time in their marriage. If you interrupt the separation period, the one-year clock will start over again should you separate again. This means you would need to stay living in separate residences for a consecutive one-year time frame. 

The law also allows a couple to obtain a divorce without living separate and apart if one of the spouses is found to suffer from incurable insanity. However, it’s quite rare for people to use this as a ground for getting a divorce. 

Making a Separation Agreement

Once you have filed for divorce, you should consider filing other domestic claims you may have or the right to assert certain claims may be lost. The court will add your case to its schedule, and it may set various hearings, which can be used as opportunities for the two sides to meet to discuss settling their case before it goes to trial.

For most people, it’s possible to settle their case well before they go to trial. With your divorce lawyer’s help, you can work out an agreement with your spouse regarding the various issues in your case.

These issues can include who receives the house, who is responsible for bills, and how you will divide up your property. When appropriate, you can also decide how much alimony in North Carolina the recipient spouse will receive, as well as how long alimony will last. 

If you have children, you may also discuss and enter into an agreement regarding visitation and custody, including how you will share holidays and vacations. There are also state laws for determining how much child support in North Carolina one parent must pay to the other. 

If you and your spouse come to an agreement, an experienced North Carolina family law attorney can help finalize your agreement in a legally binding Separation Agreement. The court will hold a hearing, during which you must tell the court that you wish to get divorced. The hearing for an absolute divorce is typically a brief hearing, and your divorce lawyer will be present. This point in the process is when the court grants the final absolute divorce, ending the marriage.

It’s normal to have questions about the process of filing for divorce in North Carolina and the rules you must follow. If you’re thinking about ending your marriage in North Carolina, speak to a North Carolina divorce lawyer at Vitale Family Law in Raleigh about your case by calling (919) 841-5680.