How long does the divorce process take in North Carolina?

As the tabloids report that Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony’s divorce was finally finalized after a separation of almost three years, many people have asked, can it really take three years to get divorced?

While every state has its own procedures regarding separation, divorce, alimony, and property division, the answer in North Carolina is, probably not.

Some states permit a spouse to initiate a divorce action immediately following separation, but many of those states still have a subsequent waiting period before the judgment of divorce can be entered. Many states also require that all property, custody, and support issues be settled before the divorce judgment can be entered. In those states, simple cases can often be resolved soon after the waiting period ends, but more complicated cases can take several years to complete, leaving the parties wedded in the meantime.

In North Carolina, a spouse can not file the action for absolute divorce until the parties have lived separate and apart for at least one year. However, North Carolina is somewhat unique in that the laws permit a couple to divorce without first resolving issues of custody, support and property. Once the divorce action is filed, if neither party disputes the fact that the couple has lived separate and apart for more than a year, the divorce will most likely be granted within 60 to 90 days. While separated spouses are free to settle custody, support, and property, or to ask a court to address those issues, it is not required. The caveat is that if the issues of spousal support and property division are not raised prior to the judgment of divorce, the parties lose the right to litigate the issues later. If, prior to a judgment of divorce, either party asks a court to decide custody, support, or property division, those issues will be addressed separate from the divorce itself. In other words, the divorce may be granted, but those other issues will continue – as long as it takes to resolve them.