You are not required to be represented by a divorce lawyer in North Carolina. However, you should be certain you understand the implications before proceeding on your own. Learn more by reading our Divorce page. If you have decided to proceed on your own, here is some basic information.
Step 1: File the complaint and summons.
You start the divorce proceeding by filing a complaint and a civil summons with the clerk of court’s office. Most clerks’ offices have forms and instructions. You can also get the forms from Legal Aid of NC.
You will have to pay a filing fee. The clerk’s office does not take personal checks, however, some will accept credit cards (for an additional processing fee. As of July 2015, the fee to file for a divorce was $225.00, $10 to resume your maiden name, and $30 for the sheriff to serve the complaint. Later there will be an additional $20 fee to schedule the hearing. Some of these fees may not apply to you, but most people pay at least $225.00. You may qualify to have the fee waived under certain circumstances. The form to ask for the fee to be waived is a Petition to Sue/Appeal/File Motions as an Indigent.
The person who files the complaint (you) is the Plaintiff, the other person (your spouse) is the Defendant. There is no deeper meaning or stigma to the terms.
The clerk of court will not notarize your signature. You have to sign your complaint under oath in the presence of a notary public. You can probably find a notary at your local bank. The notary may charge you a small fee. Because you are swearing that the contents of the complaint are true as of the filing date, you should make sure to file the complaint as soon as possible after you sign it.
Step 2: Serve the complaint and summons on your spouse.
Once the complaint is filed and the summons has been issued by the clerk of court, you will have to serve your soon-to-be-ex with both documents. Usually, this is done in one of two ways:
- By sending them to your spouse’s home address via certified mail, return receipt requested. The signed green postcard you get back from the Post Office will act as your proof of service; or
- Pay the sheriff’s department to serve the papers.
If the Defendant lives in the county where you are filing, the clerk of court’s office will probably arrange for the sheriff to serve the papers. You just have to tell the clerk that that is what you want. If your spouse lives in another county and you want him or her served by the sheriff, then the paperwork has to be sent with the service fee to that sheriff’s office. If you don’t know your spouse’s home address, you should talk to an attorney about how to get service on your spouse.
Step 3: Wait.
Once your spouse has been served, depending on the method of service, he or she has approximately thirty days in which to respond to your complaint. Or, your spouse may request an extension of thirty days from the court. (Extensions are perfectly routine; if your soon-to-be ex requests an extension, don’t worry about it.).
If your spouse does not file an Answer to your simple divorce complaint, then he or she has not raised any objection to the allegations in your complaint. If your spouse files an answer and objects to the divorce (or files other claims against you for custody, support or to divide your assets and debts) then you need to talk to an attorney.
Step 4: Schedule a hearing and prepare the divorce order.
Once the Defendant has filed an Answer, or the time to Answer has expired, you can take the next step. This is normally done by scheduling a hearing. Each county has different rules on how to do that, but you should be able to find the rules for your county online. There is a $20 fee to schedule the hearing. Whether or not your spouse has filed an Answer, you need to send him or her the notice of hearing stating the date, time and location of the hearing.
In the forms you got from the clerk or Legal Aid, there is a form for the divorce order. You need to have that filled out for the judge to sign at the hearing. It is best if you have three copies for the judge to sign so that you don’t have to figure out how to make – and pay for – copies at the courthouse. So, with three copies you have one for the court file, one for you, and one to send to your soon-to-be ex-spouse.
Step 5: Go to Court for the hearing.
Assuming your spouse is not disputing your divorce claim, the process is actually fairly simple. You arrive at court on the hearing date and wait until the Court calls your case. When it is your turn, if you are representing yourself, the judge will likely have you repeat the information from your complaint while you are under oath and then grant the divorce. So, you will testify that you were married to the Defendant on such-and-such a date in such-and-such a place and that you have been living separate and apart since you separated. Then you will hand the judge your proposed order, and the judge will probably sign it.
Once the judge signs the order, and the clerk of court stamps it – you are divorced. You will want to make sure that you get a “True Copy” with the clerk’s seal on it. You do have to mail a copy of the divorce order to your now-ex, but this time you can use regular mail, you do not have to send it certified.