5 tips for navigating divorce in North Carolina

Irina Baranova

Mecklenburg County Courthouse. Photo: Ashley Mahoney/Axios

The piece of paper making a divorce official can be awfully expensive to obtain.

Filing for divorce costs $225 in North Carolina, but a lot more goes into crossing that finish line. 

  • What costs money is the division of your stuff, any sort of spousal support, the custody of your children, and the support for your children,” family law attorney Libby James, of Offit Kurman, told Axios. “Those claims are going to cost much more money and take much more time than the actual divorce.” 

Why it matters: Mitchell Kelling, who works with James at Offit Kurman, estimates the firm has seen an 18% increase in inquiries about separation and divorce since this time last year.

  • Spending almost every waking hour with their spouse during the pandemic brought some couples closer together, and exasperated existing issues for others — or brought them to light, anyhow.
  • Even without pandemic circumstances, divorce filings rise in January after the holiday season.

Who’s getting divorced? The family law attorneys we spoke to said they haven’t seen uptick in divorce rates among a certain age, but rather standard trends remain the same.

  • A two-to-three-year marriage or five-year marriage is often considered a starter marriage among couples in their late 20s and early 30s.
  • Other ranges include 12-15 years and 25-30 years, which often includes children as the main focus of the marriage, but once children are out of the house, the couple realizes they have little in common and want to go do their own thing, Kelling told Axios.

The big picture: Divorce is different in every state. In North Carolina, for instance:

  • You or your spouse must live in North Carolina for at least the last 6 months for the state to have jurisdiction.
  • A year separation is required before you can get divorced.

By the numbers: Mecklenburg County’s 3,576 divorces in 2019, the most recent data, accounted for 10.9% of the state’s 32,862 divorces.

  • By comparison, the 6,750 marriages in the county represented 10.4% of the state’s 64,832.
  • Divorces and marriages were down from 3,899 and 6,808 in 2018 in Mecklenburg County.

Of note: North Carolina is a no-fault divorce state, meaning you don’t have to prove wrongdoing to get a divorce. 

Here are five tips to help navigate a divorce.

1. Know the five steps for getting an absolute divorce.

2. You can represent yourself.

  • The DYI method is for a somewhat amicable divorce.
  • A consultation with an attorney may be in your best interest for legal advice, but one doesn’t need to be with you in the courtroom.

3. Lawyers charge by the hour, billing in six-minute increments, as James told Axios.

  • “Every six minutes, we’re supposed to be doing something,” James said.
  • That means, if you have 10 questions for your lawyer, don’t send 10 separate emails. Send one email with 10 questions.
  • Don’t be the person who shows up with a laundry basket filled with unorganized documents. It will cost you.

4. Your attorney is not your therapist. 

  • Therapy may be covered by insurance, but your attorney’s fees won’t be, and your attorney is there to offer legal advice, nothing else.

5. Come in with your documents organized.

  • Avoid the added expense of being billed for the law office organizing your documents. 

Of note: You can look for an attorney through the North Carolina Lawyer Referral Service at 1-800-662-7660. However, if you cannot afford one, contact Legal Aid of North Carolina at 1-800-219-5262 to see if you’re eligible for assistance.

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5 tips for navigating divorce in North Carolina

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