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North Carolina Court Records

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How to File For Divorce in North Carolina

Divorce happens when the connection between individuals, who are married under state laws, breaks down and usually after efforts to reconcile have failed. In North Carolina, the divorce rate stands at 8.6. per 1000 residents, according to the United States Census Bureau. Divorces have traditionally been handled by officials of the North Carolina Judiciary under the state’s family laws. Generally, a simple divorce in North Carolina takes forty-five to ninety days, but the process may take several months for complicated divorces. This guide provides information that individuals considering divorce in North Carolina must know; how to file a divorce and how to get divorce records.  

Do I need a Reason for Divorce in North Carolina?

No. North Carolina is a no-fault divorce state, i.e., intending divorcees need not provide any other information than irreconcilable differences. Nevertheless, a person may file for divorce based on grounds enumerated in § 50–5.1, § 50–6, and § 50–7. Some of these include adultery, chronic substance abuse, cruelty, and abandonment.  

Why do I need a Divorce Lawyer?

There are several reasons to consider having professional help during a divorce. In most cases, intending divorcees who are no longer comfortable with self-representation consider hiring an attorney. Likewise, if the situation is complicated, e.g., in cases involving alimony, child support, and custody, having a lawyer is a great idea. Other times, a person may hire a lawyer simply because the respondent hired one too. In this case, having a lawyer is an asset because divorce proceedings involving lawyers tend to be adversarial. While a judge may be sympathetic towards a self-represented plaintiff, the judge must pronounce a verdict based on facts and evidence according to a system of rules, i.e., the rule of law, the rule of proceeding, and the rule of evidence.

How do I Get Started in a Divorce in North Carolina?

Before filing for divorce in North Carolina, the law requires that one or both spouses meet the state’s residency requirement for divorce. An intending divorcee must have lived in North Carolina for no less than six months before filing a divorce proceeding with a court. Once the plaintiff meets the residency requirement, the standard divorce procedure in North Carolina goes viz:

  • Filing Forms: The first step in filing a divorce in North Carolina is to prepare a complaint of divorce and complete other required court forms. The forms required to initiate a divorce depends on the nature of the divorce. Thus, the petitioner must enquire about the relevant forms at the clerk of courts office.
  • Complete the Service of Process (SOP): Here, the petitioner must serve a copy of all documents filed with the clerk of courts with the other spouse (respondent). For contested cases, the petition must contract the county sheriff to serve the respondent with a subpoena. If the divorce is uncontested, this process is unnecessary. The respondent only has to sign and notarize the acceptance of service form.
  • Mediation: In contested cases, the court typically requires both parties to attend mediation sessions to resolve disputes regarding child custody and support, alimony, or property division.
  • Schedule a Hearing Date: Here, the intending divorcee needs to schedule a date and time of hearing on the court calendar with the court clerk. At the same time, the petitioner must serve the respondent with a copy of the notice of hearing. It is advisable that intending divorcees contact the court well in advance to set a court date due to judiciary workload. If the case is uncontested, the respondent must complete the waiver and answer form. Either way, the judge will review the documents filed and consider any additional statement from the parties before granting a divorce.

How to File for Divorce in North Carolina Without a Lawyer?

The process discussed above also applies to self-represented plaintiffs; contacting the clerk of courts for additional official resources and guidelines is advised. The plaintiff may also conduct research starting with the self-help section on the judiciary website. The following is a checklist of forms that self-represented plaintiffs must submit in a divorce:

  • Complaint for Absolute Divorce
  • Verification
  • Domestic Civil Action Cover Sheet
  • Civil Summons
  • Servicemembers Civil Relief Act
  • Notice of Hearing
  • Judgment of Absolute Divorce
  • Certificate of Service
  • Certificate of Absolute Divorce or Annulment
  • Petition to Proceed as an Indigent
  • Civil Affidavit of Indigency
  • Affidavit of Service of Process by Registered or Certified Mail
  • Acceptance of Service
  • Waiver and Answer

How Does North Carolina Divorce Mediation Work?

Mediation in divorce proceedings is a form of alternate dispute resolution where a neutral party helps parties arrive at a mutual agreement on disputed matters. Using a mediator helps avoid a protracted divorce case and cut legal fees. However, bear in mind that while mediators receive training in conflict resolution, their recommendation is a suggestion at best. It is not legally binding on the intending divorcees before the judge issues a final verdict.  

How Long After Mediation is Divorce Final in North Carolina?

It depends on how complicated the divorce is and the time taken for spouses to reach an agreement. Mediation may be over in a few sessions spanning days or take several weeks depending on the nuances that need straightening. When mediation fails, the case will go back to court, and the court will schedule a hearing date.  

Are Divorce Records Public in North Carolina?

Yes, divorce records are public documents under the North Carolina Public Records Law. However, the court may render a record confidential and order its removal from the public domain if the record contains sensitive information or if its existence causes significant threat or discomfort to the lives of the divorcees. The consequence of sealing a divorce record is that only authorized individuals can access the record. Other members of the public must provide a court order before the custodian releases the records sought.

Records that are considered public may be accessible from some third-party websites. These websites often make searching simpler, as they are not limited by geographic location, and search engines on these sites may help when starting a search for specific or multiple records. To begin using such a search engine on a third-party or government website, interested parties usually must provide:

  • The name of the person involved in the record, unless said person is a juvenile
  • The location or assumed location of the record or person involved. This includes information such as the city, county, or state that the person resides in or was accused in.

Third-party sites are independent of government sources and are not sponsored by these government agencies. Because of this, record availability on third-party sites may vary.

How do I Get North Carolina Divorce Records?

Divorce records are accessible to anyone who can provide the record custodian with the necessary information to accomplish a search. The Public Records Act also permits record custodians to charge a reasonable fee for the actual cost of searching and reproducing the record (§ 132–6.2).. The information required to conduct a records search includes the name of the parties involved, the docket number, and the name of the attorney. The dates of filing or finalization, as well as case number, are also useful information to help court staff find the records faster.

To get a divorce record, visit the court where the divorce was filed in person during business hours. Courts also allow mail requests if the request contains information to conduct the search and payment for associated costs. Contact the specific court beforehand to inquire about request forms, the accepted payment method, and the fee schedule before submitting a mail request. Mail requests must also go out in a self-addressed stamped envelope with the requirements enclosed. Most courts provide this information on their official website, and the requester may browse the state court directory for this purpose. Meanwhile, eligible individuals can get copies of divorce certificates from North Carolina Vital Records by completing a request form.

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