North Carolina Divorce Laws

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To file for a divorce, either spouse must have been a resident of the State of North Carolina for at least six months next preceding the filing of the complaint. The divorce proceedings will be in the county where either party resides. [Based on North Carolina General Statutes, Chapter 50, Sections 50-3 and 50-8]

Legal Grounds for Divorce

North Carolina allows the following grounds for divorce:

  • Living separate and apart for one year.
  • Living separate and apart for three consecutive years, without cohabitation, by reason of the incurable insanity of one of them, the court may grant a decree of absolute divorce upon the petition of the sane spouse.
  • The following are allowable fault grounds for divorce if either party:
  1. Abandons his or her family.
  2. Maliciously turns the other out of doors.
  3. By cruel or barbarous treatment endangers the life of the other.
  4. Offers indignities which render the other spouse's condition intolerable and life burdensome.
  5. Becomes an excessive user of alcohol or drugs.
  6. Commits adultery.

[Based on North Carolina General Statutes, Chapter 50, Sections 50-5.1, 50-6, and 50-7]

Legal Separation

North Carolina recognizes legal separation, provided, that the separation agreement must be in writing and acknowledged by both parties before a certifying officer. [Based on North Carolina General Statutes, Chapter 50, Section 52-10.1]

Mediation or Counseling Requirements

Whenever an action involves a contested issue as to the custody or visitation of a minor child, the matter, where there is a program established, shall be set for mediation of the unresolved issues as to custody and visitation before or concurrent with the setting of the matter for hearing unless the court waives mediation. [Based on North Carolina General Statutes, Chapter 50, Section 50-13.1]

Property Distribution

North Carolina is an equitable distribution state. There shall be an equal division by using net value of marital property and net value of divisible property unless the court determines that an equal division is not equitable. The court shall consider all of the following factors when determining the property distribution:​

  • The income, property, and liabilities of each party.
  • Any obligation for support arising out of a prior marriage.
  • The duration of the marriage and the age and physical and mental health of both parties.
  • The need of a parent with custody of children of the marriage to occupy or own. the marital residence and to use or own its household effects.
  • The expectation of pension, retirement, or other deferred compensation rights that are not marital property.
  • Any equitable claim to, interest in, or direct or indirect contribution made to the acquisition of such marital property by the party not having a title, including joint efforts or expenditures and contributions and services, or lack thereof, as a spouse, parent, wage earner or homemaker.
  • Any direct or indirect contribution made by one spouse to help educate or develop the career potential of the other spouse.
  • Any direct contribution to an increase in the value of separate property which occurs during the course of the marriage.
  • The tax consequences to each party that would have been incurred if the marital and divisible property had been sold or liquidated on the date of valuation.
  • Acts of either party to maintain, preserve, develop, or expand; or to waste, neglect, devalue or convert the marital property or divisible property, or both, during the period after separation of the parties and before the time of distribution.
  • Any other factor which the court finds to be just and proper.

Separate property means all real and personal property acquired by a spouse before marriage or acquired by a spouse by bequest, devise, descent, or gift during the course of the marriage. [Based on North Carolina General Statutes, Chapter 50, Section 50-16.20]

Alimony/Maintenance/Spousal Support

Either party may petition for alimony. The court shall exercise its discretion in determining the amount, duration, and manner of payment of alimony. The duration of the award may be for a specified or for an indefinite term. In determining the amount, duration, and manner of payment of alimony, the court shall consider all relevant factors, including:

  • The marital misconduct of either of the spouses. Nothing herein shall prevent a court from considering incidents of post date-of-separation marital misconduct as corroborating evidence supporting other evidence that marital misconduct occurred during the marriage and prior to the date of separation;
  • The relative earnings and earning capacities of the spouses;
  • The ages and the physical, mental, and emotional conditions of the spouses;
  • The amount and sources of earned and unearned income of both spouses, including, but not limited to, earnings, dividends, and benefits such as medical, retirement, insurance, social security, or others;
  • The duration of the marriage;
  • The contribution by one spouse to the education, training, or increased earning power of the other spouse;
  • The extent to which the earning power, expenses, or financial obligations of a spouse will be affected by reason of serving as the custodian of a minor child;
  • The standard of living of the spouses established during the marriage;
  • The relative education of the spouses and the time necessary to acquire sufficient education or training to enable the spouse seeking alimony to find employment to meet his or her reasonable economic needs;
  • The relative assets and liabilities of the spouses and the relative debt service requirements of the spouses, including legal obligations of support;
  • The property brought to the marriage by either spouse;
  • The contribution of a spouse as homemaker;
  • The relative needs of the spouses;
  • Tax ramifications of the alimony award;
  • Any other factor relating to the economic circumstances of the parties that the court finds to be just and proper.
  • The fact that income received by either party was previously considered by the court in determining the value of a marital or divisible asset in an equitable distribution of the parties' marital or divisible property.

[Based on North Carolina General Statutes, Chapter 50, Section 50-16.3A]


A woman, upon application to the clerk of court, may change her name to:

  • Her maiden name.
  • The surname of a prior deceased husband.
  • The surname of a prior living husband if she has children who have that husband's surname. A man whose marriage is dissolved by decree of absolute divorce may, upon application to the clerk of court of the county in which he resides or where the divorce was granted setting forth his intention to do so, change the surname he took upon marriage to his pre-marriage surname.

[Based on North Carolina General Statutes, Chapter 50, Section 50-12]


In contested child custody cases, custody placement is determined by the best interests of the child. In making the determination, the court shall consider all relevant factors including acts of domestic violence between the parties, the safety of the child, and the safety of either party from domestic violence by the other party and shall make findings accordingly. Between the mother and father, whether natural or adoptive, no presumption shall apply as to who will better promote the interest and welfare of the child.

Joint custody to the parents shall be considered upon the request of either parent. If the court finds that domestic violence has occurred, the court shall enter such orders that best protect the children and party who were the victims of domestic violence. If a party is absent or relocates with or without the children because of an act of domestic violence, the absence or relocation shall not be a factor that weighs against the party in determining custody or visitation. [Based on North Carolina General Statutes, Chapter 50, Section 50-13.2]


The court shall determine the amount of child support payments by applying the North Carolina child support guidelines. If, after considering the evidence, the Court finds by the greater weight of the evidence that the application of the guidelines would not meet or would exceed the reasonable needs of the child considering the relative ability of each parent to provide support or would be otherwise unjust or inappropriate the Court may vary from the guidelines. [Based on North Carolina General Statutes, Chapter 50, Section 50-13.4]

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