BY BEVERLY BIRD
North Carolina’s divorce laws are some of the most lenient in the country, and you can take advantage of them even if you were married in Texas. Typically, you must establish residency in a state before you can file for divorce there and this is true of North Carolina. Where you got married, whether it was in Texas or elsewhere, is usually immaterial.
Separate from your spouse. You can do this while living in either Texas or North Carolina, as long as you establish a beginning date for your separation. North Carolina is a no-fault state and the law requires a year’s separation as grounds for divorce. To satisfy this requirement, you and your spouse must live in different residences during this time. You can also file for divorce in North Carolina if your spouse is incurably insane, but you’d have to prove your spouse’s insanity with testimony from a medical professional and you’d have to remain separated for three years.
Establish your residency in North Carolina. Either you or your spouse must live in the state for six months before you can file for divorce. If you separate from your spouse while living in Texas, that’s OK, provided you move to North Carolina and reside there for at least six months. Alternatively, your spouse can live in the state for six months.
File your complaint for divorce one year and one day after you separated from your spouse. You must use the court in the county where you live, or — if you don’t live in North Carolina, but your spouse does — in the county where he resides. You can get forms for a divorce complaint from the court clerk in some North Carolina counties, or you can use an online document provider.
Serve your spouse with a copy of your divorce complaint. You can ask the sheriff in the county where your spouse lives to hand-deliver your divorce documents to him or you can use a private process server. If neither the sheriff nor a private process server can locate your spouse, you can send him a copy of your divorce complaint by certified mail, return receipt requested. If all these options fail, you can request permission from the court to serve him by publication in the newspaper.
Wait 30 days then call the court to request a date for a divorce hearing. North Carolina law does not require you to settle issues of property, debts, alimony or custody before the court will grant your divorce. If you don’t ask for any of these things in your complaint, your spouse generally cannot stop your divorce unless he can prove that you didn’t physically live in two separate homes for a year. If you do ask the court to address any of these issues, your spouse can contest them by filing an answer to your complaint within 30 days of receiving it.
Attend the hearing. If your spouse has not responded to your complaint, the judge will ask you a few questions so you can confirm that you’ve met the state’s residency requirements and you and your spouse have lived separately for a year. If your spouse does contest the terms of your divorce, the judge will usually set a trial date. However, you and your spouse can try to resolve contested issues by agreement right up until the day of trial.