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No-fault divorce in North Carolina

In the past, it was common for states to require a person seeking a divorce to present grounds for divorce — that is, to prove that their spouse did something wrong — particularly if the other spouse didn’t agree to the divorce. This system made it difficult to obtain a divorce, and trapped a lot of people in unhappy marriages.

Over time, the states changed their laws, making it easier to divorce. Today, all states have some form of no-fault divorce, meaning that the parties no longer have to present evidence of wrongdoing. In many states, all a spouse has to do is list “irreconcilable differences” or “irretrievable breakdown of the marriage” as the grounds for their divorce.

North Carolina is one of a minority of states considered “true” no-fault, because a North Carolina resident seeking a divorce doesn’t even need to list “irreconcilable differences.” They don’t need the other spouse to agree to the divorce. They generally don’t even have the option of arguing fault. So long as they meet the legal requirements, they can petition the court for a divorce.


The requirements for a no-fault divorce in North Carolina are fairly simple: one or both spouses must have been a North Carolina resident for at least six months, and the spouses must have been separated for more than one year.

A party’s truthful testimony is evidence enough to convince the court that the spouses have met the separation requirement.

If these requirements are met, the party seeking the divorce starts the process by filing a complaint with the court in the county where either spouse lives. They must also pay a court fee and file a summons, a Domestic Civil Action Cover Sheet and and affidavit stating whether their spouse is in the military. (Divorces involving a member of the armed forces follow certain special rules.)

They must also serve their spouse with a copy of the summons and complaint. Serving these copies can be done by either sending the documents through certified mail, UPS or FedEx, or by paying a fee to have the county sheriff’s office serve the documents. The other spouse has 30 days to respond.

Other issues

North Carolina refers to this type of matter as a “simple” absolute divorce, but this doesn’t mean the process itself is easy. The parties still must resolve issues such as property division, spousal support and child custody.

Before the divorce is finalized, the spouses must file claims for equitable distribution in order to divide their marital property according to state law. If they don’t do this before the divorce is finalized, they lose the right to get the court to enforce property division. Similarly, a party who seeks spousal support (also known as alimony) must do so before the divorce is finalized or they will lose the right.

Child custody and child support are different, as parental rights and responsibilities do not end with divorce. However, in most cases it is advisable to get a child custody plan in place before the divorce is over.