If you’ve already decided to get divorced and you’re ready to move forward with your life, then you might be feeling trapped right now. You probably want out of your marriage as soon as possible, but it can be daunting to think about all the different steps you’ll need to take before you’re finally free.
We’ve helped lots of people in the Raleigh, NC area through the divorce process. Every divorce is different and some are more contentious than others. But all divorces involve the same basic steps and as long as you follow them closely, you should be able to complete your divorce proceedings as quickly and painlessly as possible.
Here are the 10 basic steps to freedom.
This one might seem obvious, but it’s an important first step in the process. In North Carolina, you’re required to live apart from your spouse continuously for a year before you can file for a divorce. If you’ve had an on-again-off-again relationship or if you’ve continued to live together for financial reasons or convenience, it’s important to officially separate and commit to living separately once and for all.
Once you’re sure that your marriage is over, it’s a good idea to call a divorce and family lawyer to help you understand the process and your rights. The more you know upfront, the better equipped you will be in protecting your custody rights and property.
An attorney will advocate for you and give you advice on what to say or do in negotiations with your ex. They will also help to ensure that the process doesn’t drag on longer than it needs to. Getting divorced is usually an emotionally-charged process and having an expert in your corner from the very beginning can help to make it easier.
To avoid any question of your separation once the waiting period is over, it’s essential to secure stable housing for yourself, away from your ex, as soon as possible. If you have children, you must also ensure that your housing is safe and stable for them.
Remember, the path to freedom doesn’t truly begin until you are separated! You should thoroughly document the date of your separation to ensure that you will be able to prove to the court that you have completed the mandatory waiting period.
Once you are living at different addresses, the 12-month separation requirement begins. During this time, your children will likely be spending some time with you and some time with their other parent. Remember that if circumstances or choice result in you moving back in together, any progress will be lost. Even if you’ve been living apart for 11 months, you’ll have to start over again at day one if you move back in with your ex and then decide to separate again.
As soon as you can, you should start gathering the documentation that you’ll need in determining the terms of your divorce. Tax returns from the last 5 years, 3 years of bank statements and credit card statements, pay stubs, and information about any debts are among the financial records you’ll need.
You should also get documentation on the date of separation, appraisals for any property you own, retirement account information, and business information, if applicable.
You might also need to pull together evidence of an affair, if your spouse has been unfaithful. Although North Carolina divorces are no-fault, fault can be considered if alimony will be involved.
Not sure what types of documentation you need to pull together? An attorney can help you create a list of documents to retrieve, which will depend on your individual circumstances. Getting all the documents you will need can take time. Try to get started as soon as you can so you don’t have to delay your divorce any longer than the mandatory waiting period.
During the year of separation, you should try to work out the terms of your divorce. The paperwork for a divorce in North Carolina does not address the matters of child custody, child support, alimony, and property division, so you should discuss them well before you appear before a judge.
It’s always best to discuss the terms of the divorce amicably, if possible. Talk to your soon-to-be ex and discuss how you will share custody, what’s fair as far as support goes, and how you’ll divide your common assets. If there are children involved, you must always put their well-being first in the decisions you make.
Most divorcing couples work with a mediator to find compromises in these matters. It’s always best to reach these agreements without getting the court involved in the decision-making process, but in rare cases, it’s necessary to attend hearings to obtain orders that obligate matters like child support. If you can’t work anything out without the help of the courts, it’s important to realize that the process will be longer, messier, and more painful.
Once you have been living at different addresses for twelve months and one day, you can file the divorce papers with a North Carolina court to dissolve the marriage. Your attorney, if you have one, can file on your behalf. If you are the one filing, you will be the “plaintiff” and your spouse will be the “defendant,” regardless of how amicable the proceedings have been.
Filing a divorce complaint costs $75. Some forms will need to be signed in the presence of a notary public. Keep in mind that filing this paperwork only serves to sever the legal marriage ties. You and your attorney, if you have one, will need to work with your ex and a mediator to split up your assets together, if you have any.
When you file a divorce complaint, you will need to make at least two copies of the paperwork to keep on hand for later on in the process.
Once your complaint has been filed, your spouse must be “served.” Generally, you will need to pay a process server or the sheriff to deliver the papers. They do not typically do this in person, as certified mail is the preferred option. You will not be allowed to deliver the documents yourself, unless your ex has agreed to it.
Generally, you must pay a fee to have your spouse served. However, you might be able to have this fee waived in certain cases.
Once the divorce complaint has been filed and the papers have been successfully served, your ex will have a chance to respond. A hearing date will be set, and that paperwork must also be served at least 10 days before the hearing.
There is a 30-day waiting period after the defendant has been served, giving them a chance to respond. If the divorce proceedings are amicable, this step shouldn’t take long or cause any additional trouble.
If you’ve already decided on how you will divide up your property and on any custody and support matters, the hearing should be simply a formality. You will need to bring two copies of a “Judgment of Absolute Divorce” and a “Certificate of Absolute Divorce” to your appointment and any documentation involving agreements made through mediation or other means.
The judge will look over your paperwork and ask you some questions. If everything is in order, the judge will sign the paperwork and end your marriage. Keep in mind that if you are unable to agree on the terms of your divorce, then the process will be much longer and can get both messy and costly. If at all possible, it’s best to avoid a public trial and a contentious divorce.
Once the judge signs your paperwork, you’re finally free! You are no longer obligated to your former spouse (except as officially agreed) and you are free to get married again if you wish. Some people also choose to change their name at the time of their divorce.
The divorce process can be extremely stressful. Try not to let your emotions affect your decisions and always think about your long-term future. It’s often better to make small concessions than to let the divorce get messy. You may end up in an unpleasant court battle as a result.
Remember that your behavior could have an impact on your divorce settlement. If you date during the separation, your spouse might be able to use that in matters of child custody and alimony, if they can prove you were unfaithful before the separation. Although you are free to date during the proceedings, it may be safer to hold off, depending on the circumstances.
Many people go through all the steps to freedom without the help of a lawyer. If you have a very simple, uncontested divorce, then this might work out just fine. But if you have significant assets, children, or a contentious relationship, then hiring legal representation may be crucial to protecting yourself during the process.
At Gailor Hunt, we can help. Our Raleigh divorce lawyers understand that each case is unique and will work with you to reach the most favorable terms possible.