Practice Area

Divorce & Family Law

Divorce in North Carolina

In North Carolina, divorce is treated differently than in other states. The attorneys at Soni Brendle take divorce cases on an hourly basis, a fixed fee basis, a minimum fee basis, or a contingency basis, depending on your situation. The attorneys are experienced in the courtroom, in mediation, and in drafting Separation Agreements for custody, child support, alimony and Equitable Distribution.

While each divorce or custody case is different, the following are common questions that arise in a consultation.

Do I Have to Go to Court?

If you and your spouse can reach an amicable settlement, there is no need to go to court.  However, often times one spouse is unreasonably withholding custody of the children, seeking unrealistic child support or alimony, or refusing to divide marital property fairly.  Litigation can also force the parties to disclose accurate financial information about accounts, investments or business interests.

In these situations, litigation may be your only option. The judge will be the ultimate tiebreaker in deciding issues of child support and alimony, child custody, and the division of marital assets and marital debts in Equitable Distribution.

What This Really Means:
  1. What if my spouse and I agree on the terms for all these issues?

You do not have to go to court.

2. What if my spouse and I cannot agree on any or some of these terms?

You might need to use the court system and judge as a decision-maker on these issues due to your disagreement.

How Do I Get a “Legal Separation” in North Carolina?

There is technically no “legal separation” in North Carolina. In North Carolina, the only thing that you need to start a separation is for you and your spouse to start living in separate residences. Once you have lived separate and apart for 1 year, you can file for divorce. The day one spouse moves out of the shared residence is the “Date of Separation” for North Carolina.  You do not need any paperwork, agreement, or judge’s signature to start the “Date of Separation”, although you should consult with an attorney to insure you are not jeopardizing your other legal rights. North Carolina does not recognize a separation if you are merely living in separate rooms in the same house; you must be living in completely separate residences.

How Long Does An Initial Consultation Last?

The initial consultation typically lasts between 1 and 1-1/2 hours. We charge a fee based on which attorney you meet with.

Who Else Can I Bring With Me For Support During An Initial Consultation

Divorce is difficult without support from friends and family. While we recognize that going through a divorce becomes easier with emotional support, you may lose rights to confidentiality by having third parties in the room during a consultation. Our attorneys will discuss the implications before any confidential information is exchanged.

If I Live With Someone For Long Enough, Am I Considered Married By Common Law?

North Carolina does not recognize common law marriage. Therefore, you cannot enter into a common law marriage in this state. However, if you were considered married by the common law of another state, then North Carolina will recognize your common law status after you move here.

How Do My Family Law Claims Come to an End?

If you can reach an agreement on terms with your spouse regarding child custody, child support, dividing your property, or alimony, you may not need to ever step foot in a courtroom. You can sign a written Separation Agreement with your spouse in North Carolina to resolve these issues. Depending on the county, this means you may never have to even stand before a judge or step into the courthouse with regard to your divorce.  The Separation Agreement does not need to be filed with the court system unless future issues arise.

If you were forced to litigate issues in the court system, the judge will sign an Order, Judgment or Decree that defines the financial and custody issues for you and your spouse or partner. This document will be filed with the court system.

There may be supplemental documents similar to the ones listed above depending on your case.

How Do I Finalize My Divorce?

In North Carolina, there are only 2 grounds for obtaining divorce. In the majority of cases, this means you only have to live separate and apart from your spouse for 1 full year. You must be living in separate residences. Living in separate bedrooms in the same house does not start a separation. There is no requirement that you show adultery, abuse, or neglect.

Even if your spouse accuses you of adultery or mistreatment, your spouse will not be able to stop the divorce from being granted, as long as you have lived apart for 1 year.

You will still have to deal with property, child custody, child support, and alimony,  if appropriate, in your case.

Some counties do not require spouses to appear in court to finalize a divorce. If your county does require this, as long as you can show that you have been separated for one year, you will only be asked 5-10 questions by the judge before being granted your divorce.

Before filing for divorce, you should consult with an attorney to make sure your rights to alimony and Equitable Distribution (property division) are protected.

Andrew Brendle


Ketan Soni

Ketan Soni

Lillie S. Ashworth

Senior Attorney
Lillie Ashworth