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The First Step in Getting Divorced: Separation in North Carolina

The First Step in Getting Divorced: Separation in North Carolina

Separation in North Carolina. Woman removing wedding ring from finger

Making the decision to end a marriage is never easy. It often involves a long and emotionally taxing process, and the first step in this journey can be crucial in setting the course for what lies ahead. If you find yourself in this situation in North Carolina, the first critical step toward getting a divorce is separation. This article will explore the ins and outs of separation in North Carolina and how it serves as the initial milestone on the road to divorce.

The Decision to Separate

You’ve reached the point where you’ve decided that your marriage cannot be salvaged. Perhaps years of arguments and conflicts have led you to this conclusion, and you’re now eager to move forward with your life. The first question that often arises in such situations is, “What’s the next step?” In North Carolina, the answer is clear (most of the time): before either spouse can file for divorce, the couple must be legally separated for at least one year.

The Legal Definition of Separation

Legal separation in North Carolina entails more than just living in separate bedrooms under the same roof. To meet the state’s criteria for separation, the couple must live separately and apart with the intention of being permanently separated. This means they must have separate residences and live as if they are no longer in a marital relationship. In essence, they should not present themselves as a married couple in any way.

It’s essential to note that temporary separations, such as when one spouse is deployed in the military, don’t qualify as legal separation in North Carolina if the intention is to reconcile and reunite after a brief period apart. In such cases, the couple is not considered to be living separate and apart under the state’s divorce law.

No Legal Documents Required

One aspect that might surprise some is that there are no legal documents to sign or file to become legally separated in North Carolina. Unlike some other states, where legal separation agreements are common, North Carolina requires only physical separation. This means you don’t need to draft or file any formal paperwork to initiate the separation process. 

Instead, you and your spouse must establish separate living arrangements, with each of you residing in different locations.

The Waiting Period

Once you’ve successfully separated and maintained separate residences with the intention of permanent separation, you must then wait for a specific period before proceeding with your divorce. North Carolina law stipulates that divorce can be filed on the 366th day after the separation begins. This one-year waiting period is designed to allow couples ample time to contemplate their decision and work out any potential issues related to property, custody, and support.

During this waiting period, it’s advisable to consult with an attorney or mediator to address any legal matters that may arise during the divorce process, such as property division, spousal support, and child custody arrangements.

In Conclusion

While making the decision to divorce is emotionally challenging, understanding the legal steps involved can help you navigate the process more smoothly. In North Carolina, the first and most crucial step is separation, which consists of living separately and apart with the intention of permanent separation.

No legal documents are required for this stage, but it is essential to maintain separate addresses. After the one-year waiting period, you can proceed with filing for divorce, seeking the assistance of legal professionals to ensure a fair and equitable resolution to the dissolution of your marriage. Divorce is a complex process, and seeking legal advice and support is often essential to protect your rights and interests.

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Carolyn Bellof

Carolyn Bellof is a Certified Family Law Specialist in North Carolina. She brings empathy and a personal understanding of loss and resilience to her clients, ensuring their legal needs are protected during emotionally challenging family law proceedings.

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