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How to get a divorce in North Carolina

If you haven't been separated for at least a year, you won't qualify.

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Getting divorced in North Carolina will take you at least a year, since you’ll need to meet the state’s separation requirement before you can file. From there, you can choose between two grounds for divorce and begin the process of preparing your paperwork with an attorney, on your own or using an online divorce service for help.

Requirements to get divorced in North Carolina

North Carolina law requires that you and your spouse meet two criteria to begin the divorce process:

  • Resident of North Carolina for at least six months
  • Separated for at least one year

Once you meet these two criteria, you can file a divorce complaint with the North Carolina court system.

What are the grounds for divorce in North Carolina?

North Carolina has two grounds for divorce:

  • Separation. You can apply for a no-fault divorce after one year of living apart — you don’t have to prove that anyone is to blame.
  • Insanity. You can get a divorce after three consecutive years of separation because one spouse is deemed legally insane. While insanity is no longer a medical diagnosis, it’s an artifact in the legal system to denote “any mental disorder severe enough that it prevents a person from having legal capacity and excuses the person from criminal or civil responsibility,” according to Black’s Law Dictionary.

Quick facts about divorce in North Carolina

  • Equitable distribution state
  • Divorce files are public record
  • No mandatory waiting period to get a divorce if your spouse responds
  • 30-day waiting period if your spouse does not respond

Average cost of divorce in North Carolina

It’ll cost you $225 to file your divorce petition with the court in North Carolina. This doesn’t include additional costs like court fees, postage, photocopies and notary services.

You’ll also want to budget for additional costs related to the route you use to complete your divorce paperwork. Here are approximate expenses for a few different avenues you can take.

Using online divorce services

Depending on which online divorce divorce service you go with and how much help you need, you could end up paying anywhere from $150 to $1,500 — on top of your court filing fees.

Some elite services can even set you back $3,000 to $6,000 with their extra features, including drafting child custody agreements and consultations with a private judge.

Hiring lawyers

The average cost of hiring an attorney to get divorced in North Carolina ranges from $9,700 to $11,700, according to a study by Martindale-Nolo Research.

If your divorce is relatively simple, you’ll likely pay a few thousand dollars at a minimum. But it could go as high as $30,000 for more complicated divorces, like those involving child custody disputes.

Divorce lawyers in North Carolina charge an average hourly rate between $230 and $280. If you choose to hire lawyers, try negotiating a flat fee instead to prevent getting hit with a huge bill at the end.

Doing it yourself

You’ll generally only pay the associated court fees — starting at $225 for the filing fee— if you elect to prepare your divorce papers yourself. While this is the cheapest option, it’s also the most time-consuming and work-intensive on your part. You’ll need to research what divorce forms you need and vigilantly navigate any legal jargon to ensure you fill out the documents correctly.

You might encounter the following miscellaneous costs on top of the filing fee:

  • Process serving fees: $7 to $30
  • Claim to resume your maiden name: $10
  • Additional motions: $20
  • Photocopies: $2 for the first page and $0.25 for each page after that

What if I can’t afford the filing fee for a divorce in North Carolina?

If you can’t spare the filing fee, you can ask the court to let you file for divorce for free by filling out the Petition to Proceed as an Indigent form.

To qualify, you’ll need to show proof you receive public benefits or present a pay stub or other evidence that proves you can’t afford the fee. Make sure you sign the application in front of a notary public before submitting the form.

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

At a minimum, it will take at least a year to get a divorce in North Carolina. This is because you and your spouse need to be separated for at least 12 months before you can even file. Once you file the papers with the courts, your spouse has 30 days to respond.

But if you and your spouse don’t agree on the terms of the divorce, the process could take over a year. Issues that could lengthen the divorce process include:

  • Division of property
  • Child custody, support and visitation rights
  • Alimony

According to a study by Martindale-Nolo Research, the average divorce takes 12 months to complete with divorce attorneys. And having children bumps up that timing to 15 months.

If you and your spouse can reach a decision on most issues concerning your divorce settlement, you can generally sort out the details of your divorce relatively quickly. For example, uncontested divorces can use an online service to finalize a divorce in as little as a month. On the flip side, if you and your spouse can’t come to terms with the main issues, the process could take significantly longer.

Can I get a divorce in North Carolina without going to court?

Yes. It is absolutely possible to get divorced in North Carolina without going to court.

For uncontested cases, where you and your partner agree, you can skip the court trial by filling out the forms yourself, using an online divorce service or recruiting family law attorneys to handle everything for you.

It’s still possible for contested cases to keep things out of the courtroom. If you and your spouse can’t agree, you can try mediation, arbitration or use lawyers specially trained in negotiations to help you reach a settlement.

Compare online divorce services

Couples with uncontested cases have their pick of online divorce services.

Name Product Cost Includes filing papers with court? File without spouse Legal assistance available Customer service
3 Step Divorce
$299 - $336
No - you must file and pay court fees
Yes
No
Phone, Email
File within one business day of your start date with 3StepDivorce and qualify for a $50 cash rebate. Payment plans available.
LegalZoom online divorce
$499
No - you must file and pay court fees
Yes
Yes
Phone, Email, Live chat
File for an uncontested divorce online or find legal resources to help guide you through the divorce process.
OnlineDivorce.com
$139
No - you must file and pay court fees
Yes
No
Phone, Email
Ready-to-file divorce forms for one flat fee. Step-by-step directions to help simplify uncontested divorces.
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Compare up to 4 providers

How to get a divorce online in North Carolina

Online divorce services help take the guesswork out of the divorce procedure by filling out the forms for you. You’ll kick off the process by answering a short questionnaire to make sure you qualify.

From there, it’ll ask you more detailed questions about your situation. The service then uses your responses to generate all the relevant legal forms you’ll need. Once you sign and notarize your documents, you can take the dissolution packet to your county clerk to officially file for divorce.

Bottom line

The divorce process can be complicated — but there are people and services that can help you navigate the process. If you and your spouse meet the North Carolina residency requirement and have been separated for at least a year, you can file for divorce, and you might not need to hire lawyers.

Read more about how to file for divorce with our step-by-step guide.

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