The Divorce Process

Four Decades of Experience Guiding Clients Through Legal Matters

Understanding the Divorce Process

Answers from Our Raleigh Divorce Attorney

If you are headed toward divorce, you probably have a lot of questions. You are probably wondering how the steps play out, as well as how long it takes to get your divorce finalized. At Hopper Law Office, we want to do everything we can to make the process a little more bearable.

Below, we have prepared an outline on the divorce process for you. This way you can have a clearer picture of what to expect in the upcoming months and years ahead. If you need further information, or if you need to speak with a Raleigh divorce lawyer, we urge you to contact our firm directly by calling (919) 694-4595.

Topics that are discussed below include:

  • The Residency Requirement
  • North Carolina Grounds for Divorce
  • Filing the Divorce Papers
  • Serving Your Spouse
  • Equitable Distribution
  • Child Support, Child Custody & Visitation
  • Your Divorce Attorney
  • The Divorce Hearing

The Residency Requirement

In order to file for divorce in North Carolina, at least one of the spouses must have been a resident of the state for at least six months before filing for divorce. The divorce complaint will need to be filed in the county where either party resides. This is referred to as the "venue."

North Carolina Grounds for Divorce

North Carolina allows the following grounds for divorce:

  1. The couple is living separate and apart for one full year
  2. The couple is living separate and apart due to incurable insanity of either spouse
  3. Abandonment
  4. The spouse maliciously kicks the other spouse out of the home
  5. Cruel and inhumane treatment
  6. Alcohol or drug abuse
  7. Adultery,
  8. Other forms of verbal or emotional abuse (indignities)

In most cases the couple will decide to dissolve their marriage based on irretrievable breakdown of the marriage, in which case the couple must live separate for at least one year before the divorce complaint can be filed. After the year has elapsed then it will be necessary to file the necessary court papers.

Filing the Divorce Papers

Once you have lived separate, not just in separate bedrooms but separate homes for one full year, it will be time to file the divorce papers. Procedures vary from county to county so it's a good idea to check with the Clerk's Office where you intend to file for divorce. In Wake County, the court papers that you will need to file consist of the Domestic Civil Action Cover Sheet, as well as three signed, notarized, and verified copies of the Complaint, along with four copies of the Civil Summons (two white and two yellow). The Clerk will go ahead and stamp the date on your papers and then assign you a case number. A copy of the papers will go into the court file and the other copies will be returned to you. If you intend to serve the papers via certified mail, be sure to tell the Clerk.

Serving Your Spouse

Once you have filed the divorce papers at the Clerk's Office, the next step is serving your spouse.

There are a few methods to accomplish this:

  1. You can either take a copy of the complaint and two copies of the summons to the Sheriff's Department for service for a nominal fee; or
  2. You can send a copy of the summons and the complaint to your spouse via certified mail with a return receipt request at a nominal cost.

If you decide to have the Sheriff's Department serve the papers, you can expect the process to take anywhere from 10 days to 2 weeks on average. The Sheriff's Department usually make a few attempts to serve the papers before they return the papers back to the Clerk's Office stating the attempts failed.

If you sent the papers via certified mail, then make sure you keep the date-stamped white certified mail receipt. The green return receipt will be mailed back to you once someone signs for the papers. Once your spouse has been served, they have just 30 days after receiving the papers to file an answer objecting to the divorce. However, since North Carolina is a no fault divorce state, there is little they can do to object to the divorce as long as the six month residency requirement and the one year's separation has been met.

Equitable Distribution

North Carolina is an equitable distribution state. This does not meant that everything is split down the middle 50/50. When determining how to divide property the courts will take into consideration the following factors: the duration of the marriage, the age and health of both spouses, each parties contributions to the marriage as a homemaker, the income sources of each person, their employability, as well as if there are any children from the marriage. If there are children, the court will assess their current needs, as well as their future financial needs. The same considerations will be taken into account when determining whether the court will award alimony.

Child Support, Child Custody & Visitation

If you have children with your spouse then it will be necessary for the both of you to come to an agreement about child custody and visitation. If child custody is a contested issue and you and your spouse cannot agree on an arrangement, then the courts will step in and make a determination based on what's in the best interests of the child. The court will look into any relevant factors such as domestic violence, drug or alcohol abuse, and each parent's ability to provide for the child and give them a safe home among other factors. For child support, the courts will normally apply the North Carolina child support guidelines.

Your Divorce Attorney

If you and your spouse have real estate property, assets, and/or children, then it will be necessary to discuss these issues between your divorce attorney and your spouse's attorney. Fortunately, the vast majority (95%) of divorce cases are settled without ever having to go to trial. If all goes well between you and your spouse, then you should get the seal of approval from the judge, thereby granting you a divorce. If you and your spouse cannot come to terms about how assets will be divided, or about child custody and visitation, then it may become necessary to litigate. Keep in mind that a collaborative divorce is more affordable and simpler than a contested divorce.

The Divorce Hearing

In Wake County, once you find out that your spouse has been served, you can select a date for the divorce hearing. The earliest you can select a court date is 30 days after the date of service (the date your spouse was served). In order to schedule a hearing you will need to complete a hearing request form and mail a copy to your spouse and to the Wake County Domestic Clerk at the address on the form.

The divorce hearing doesn't normally take very long. The judge will ask questions about the date of the marriage, the date of the separation, and whether or not you and your spouse have lived apart for the last year. If you have children with your spouse, the court will inquire about the legal status of child custody, visitation and support. If you and your spouse are content with matters relating to equitable distribution, alimony (if any), child support and child custody, then the judge should sign off on the divorce judgment. One copy will be filed with the court, one copy will go to you and one copy will go to your spouse.

Consult with a Raleigh Divorce Attorney: Call (919) 694-4595

This is a basic summary of the divorce process. Since every couple's situation is unique, there isn't a cookie cutter approach to divorce. Some couples may have a significant amount of assets and children from the marriage, whereas other couples might not have any children or any assets to speak of.

Since divorce is a complex process, it's important to hire your own legal representative. At Hopper Law Office, we are here to make the divorce process go as seamless and painless as possible. We believe in arming our clients with the information they need to give them the best chances of a successful divorce. Whatever your objectives are, we are your personal legal advocates and are here to protect your best interests at all times.

To discuss the divorce process in further detail, contact a divorce lawyer from Hopper Law Office.

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