How to File For Divorce in North Carolina

How to file divorce in North Carolina

A Guide to Filing for Divorce in North Carolina

The official term for getting a divorce in North Carolina is known as Absolute Divorce. Regardless of the name, going through the actual process can be an emotionally wrenching and stressful experience, especially when you don’t fully understand how the all the steps work.

If you’re contemplating a divorce in North Carolina, or you’ve already started the process, there are several things you should know as you move forward.

While it’s true that every divorce in unique, there are some things that are common to most all divorces in North Carolina. Having a clear understanding of what those things are allows you to proceed with a higher degree of confidence in knowing that you will be making better decisions along the way.

Important information you need to gather

important information

There are many complicated issues in divorce that you will need to be prepared for. Getting organized early on and having the documents you need at your fingertips will make the entire process a little bit less daunting.

It will also save you time and money, while helping to expedite the divorce process.

For a better understanding of what documents you’ll need, we’ve put together this Divorce Information Checklist. It’s a great resource as you begin the task of pulling together your financial documentation.

Decide how you will proceed with your divorce

Which Divorce Procedure to Use

The type of divorce you choose sets the tone for how you will go about reaching a resolution.

In short, you need to have a full understanding of the different types of divorce and how they will shape your settlement negotiations.

Here are a few of the most common divorce process options:

You’re probably wondering which kind is best. It’s not one-size-fits-all. Each type has its pros and cons depending on your relationship with your spouse.

Be sure to check out our guide for an in-depth overview on The Types of Divorce. It will answer many of your questions and help you make an informed decision.

Fill Out the Necessary Forms to Start the Process

Forms to Prepare

You will need to complete several forms and submit them to start your divorce. If you’re using an attorney, they will make sure you’re using the right forms and that they are filled out correctly.

If you are going to complete forms by yourself, which many people do, there are several you’ll need to submit. If you are the one filing the forms, you’ll be referred to as the plaintiff. Your spouse will be referred to as the defendant.

At a minimum, you will need to prepare the following:

  • Complaint – There are two versions of this form. If you have no children, then you will file Complaint A. If you have children, then you will need to provide additional details by filing Complaint B.
  • Verification – A Verification is similar to an affidavit and when you complete and sign it, you are swearing the information you have provided is the truth. For a complaint to be valid, it must be properly verified at the time it is submitted. The verification must be signed in front of a Notary Public before it can be submitted to the county courthouse.
  • Civil Summons – A Civil Summons is the document that is served on your spouse to legally notify them that they are being served with a divorce Complaint. It gives the server the information they need to deliver the documents to your spouse. When the Summons has been served, the server will complete a proof of service document which will then be returned to the court to show that the spouse has been legally served their divorce paperwork.
  • Civil Action Cover Sheet – For all civil actions in North Carolina, this cover sheet is used to summarize the critical elements of the filing in a standardized format prescribed by the Administrative Office of the Courts.
  • The Petition to Sue/Appeal as an Indigent – Complete this form is you are seeking a waiver of the filing and services fees due to an inability to pay. You will also need to complete an Affidavit of Indigency as well.

As you work your way through the divorce process, you will probably need to complete other forms as well. These may include but are not limited to:

  • Financial Affidavit
  • Notice of Hearing
  • Separation Agreement
  • Affidavit as to Status of Minor Child

File Your Documents

File Your Forms for a Divorce

After you have completed a one-year separation period, or three years if you are claiming your spouse has incurable insanity, you will need to file forms with the Clerk of Court’s office in the county where you live. When you file, you will also need to pay a filing fee of $225 and a service fee to have the papers legally served on your spouse.

When this is done by a county sheriff, the fee is usually $30. If you can’t afford these fees, you can request a waiver by submitting a Petition to Sue/Appeal as an Indigent and if it is approved, those fees will be waived.

When you file your forms, the Clerk will assign a case number to your case that will then be used to track your divorce as it moves through the courts. Many counties will also give you directions about what comes next and what steps you need to follow to finalize your divorce to minimize any concerns and difficulties you might otherwise have.

Serving Your Spouse With Divorce Papers

Pursuant to North Carolina Rules of Civil Procedure, the preferred way to complete proof of service is to have a sheriff serve the complaint and summons to a spouse. If a spouse resides in North Carolina, the fee for this service is generally nominal but may vary some from county to county. It’s best to check with the local sheriff agency to get an exact cost for this service.

After a spouse has been served, the sheriff will return a signed copy of the summons that lists the time, place and manner or service that will act as proof the service has been completed

If the sheriff is not able to complete service, then a spouse may attempt service by registered mail or certified mail. It is also possible to attempt delivery through a process server or by a designated delivery service such as FedEx. If these methods are used, a spouse must file an affidavit and attach a proof of delivery by the appropriate service.

If these methods fail, then a spouse can attempt service by publication but only if other methods have been attempted with due diligence. Service by publication requires placing legal notices in local publications for three successive weeks in a newspaper that is qualified for legal advertising to meet the legal requirements needed to complete proof of service.

Until proof of service has been completed by any of these means, a divorce complaint cannot move forward.

Frequently Asked Questions About Filing for Divorce in North Carolina

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

How much does it cost

The cost to file for an Absolute Divorce in North Carolina is $225. It is payable to the Clerk of the Court in the county where you file your paperwork.

In addition, when you file you must also serve your spouse will the filed paperwork. Most of the time, this is done by having the county sheriff complete proof of service. The cost for this is an additional $30.

Depending on the county where papers are filed, there may be some added miscellaneous costs as well.

Can divorce fees be waived in North Carolina?

In some instances, it may be possible to ask a judge to waive the fees associated with a filing by completing and submitting a Petition to Sue as an Indigent. You will need to have it notarized and give it to the clerk when you file your complaint. The petition will require you to provide information about your income to help the clerk determine if you are eligible for a fee waiver.

Can I file for a divorce online in North Carolina?

divorce online

There are several firms and private family law attorneys who can assist you in completing the forms you will need to file for your Absolute Divorce in North Carolina. Many times, this can either be done online, or by trading emails to complete the documentation. This can save time and money, especially in an uncontested divorce where both parties are in agreement about all of the issues surrounding the action.

Our favorite resource for a fast and effective online divorce is: 3 Step Divorce.

3 Step Divorce checks all the boxes that make an online divorce worthwhile.

They aim to make it easy – and they certainly deliver.

From step-by-step instructions to unlimited live support, here are just a few of the reasons why 3 Step is our #1 recommended online divorce resource:

  • Affordable
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    • Initial questionnaire takes less than 1 hour
  • Informative
    • Library of free tools and resources
  • Supportive
    • Unlimited access to support agents by phone or email
  • Instantaneous
    • Immediate access to completed forms
  • Guaranteed
    • Assurance of 100% court-approval (or your money back!)

3 Step Divorce also boasts the highest customer rating in the industry (4.6 stars based on 1,575 reviews).

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However, once paperwork is completed, regardless of how it is completed, you must still file the documentation in person at the Clerk of Courts in the county where you live. You will need to file two copies and also make arrangements to have those papers served on your spouse as well.

How long does it take to get a divorce in North Carolina?

How long does it take

To go through an uncontested Absolute Divorce, you must meet the separation requirement of being apart from your spouse for at least one year before you can file a petition for divorce. Once the paperwork has been filed and served, your spouse has 30 days to respond to the complaint.

In some cases, it is possible to petition the court for a 30-day extension. If spouses can agree on all the issues such as alimony, child support, a division of assets and so forth, then a judge may grant a final divorce in as little as 60 days after the response has been filed.

But if you are going through an Absolute Divorce and there are unresolved issues, then a divorce could take much longer, ranging from several months to one or two years, or even longer, depending on the circumstances of your case.

What are the residency requirements to file for a divorce in North Carolina?

To file for an Absolute Divorce in North Carolina, at least one of the spouses must have lived in the state for at least six months prior to filing as part of the one-year separation period.

Can I file for divorce in North Carolina without using a lawyer?

file for divorce without a lawyer

Yes. As long as you meet the requirements for an Absolute Divorce in North Carolina, you can move forward without the assistance of a lawyer. Generally, not using a lawyer works best in an uncontested divorce where both sides are in agreement on all the issues.

Understand that when you proceed in this manner, whether it is to save money or for another reason, you run the risk of making legal mistakes that could cost you dearly. If you have any disputes related to alimony, custody or child support, you should probably not attempt to handle these issues without legal assistance.

If you don’t want to retain a lawyer, you may be able to use a mediator or an arbitrator who will take a more collaborative approach to solving differences between you and your spouse. These professionals are generally less expensive and will still provide you with quality services in a less contentious and more peaceful attempt to resolve your issues.

Can I get a divorce in North Carolina if I am pregnant?


Yes, you can get a divorce in North Carolina if you are pregnant with another man’s child. You must be able to show that you have met the requirement of being physically separated from your current spouse for at least a year.

Be aware that your current husband could be considered the legal father unless you can prove by DNA testing that the other man is the biological father of the child.

How is my divorce affected if I am a member of the military in North Carolina?


If you or your spouse are a member of the military and want to get an Absolute Divorce in North Carolina, one of you must have been stationed in North Carolina for six months prior to filing for a divorce. The plaintiff may file a Complaint for Divorce in the county where he or she lives or where the respondent has lived for the prior six months.

The grounds for a military divorce are the same as they are for a civilian divorce. You can either claim you have lived apart for at least one year or lived separate and apart for three consecutive years due to incurable insanity in one of the spouses.

Just as in a civilian divorce, once paperwork has been filed in North Carolina to begin a divorce, copies must be served on a spouse to give him or her a chance to respond. However, when that spouse is in the military, they have certain protections afforded to them by the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act. This allows them to postpone the divorce while they are overseas or otherwise not able to adequately respond to the petition due to military service commitments.

The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act eases many legal and financial burdens of military personnel and their families who face the added challenges of active duty. A service member may choose to waive delaying the divorce by signing off on paperwork which will then allow the divorce to proceed uncontested.

Normal equitable property division laws apply for a military divorce in North Carolina, but the federal government also protects military personnel through the Uniformed Services Former Spouses Protection Act that governs how military benefits are calculated when a divorce takes place. Federal laws will not allow a military members retirement to be distributed to a spouse unless the couple has been married for 10 years or more while the service member was on active duty.

Child support and spousal support are determined by North Carolina state guidelines, but federal law dictates that child and spousal support awards may not exceed 60% of a servicemember’s pay and allowances.

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