My wife and I separated on December 21, 2023. Will we be divorced on December 21, 2024?
Answer: NO. In North Carolina, a lawsuit has to be filed to get a divorce. The spouse who files the lawsuit is the plaintiff. The other spouse is the defendant. The filing fee as of 2023 is $250.00. The lawsuit can be filed in the county where the plaintiff lives or where the defendant lives. To file the lawsuit, the plaintiff has to have an address for the defendant. The plaintiff cannot sign the lawsuit until the day after the anniversary of the date of separation, i.e. a year and a day. So in this case, that would be December 22, 2024 or later. Once the lawsuit is filed with the clerk of court, then it has to be served on the defendant. The lawsuit can be served by certified mail (about $10-15), by sheriff ($30), or if and only if the defendant has an attorney, by that attorney accepting service.
Once the defendant is served, the defendant has 30 days to respond. The defendant does not have to respond, but the plaintiff has to wait the 30 days, unless:
1. More than 30 days. Before the 30 day deadline from the date of service, the defendant files a motion to extend time to answer for up to an extra 30 days. So, if the defendant files a motion to extend time, then the plaintiff has to wait 60 days.
2. Less than 30 days. If and only if the defendant has an attorney, the defendant can have the attorney waive the waiting period to allow the divorce to happen faster. So the only way for to shorten the time is if the defendant files an answer agreeing to shorten the time needed for the notice requirements. Typically, this means that the defendant has to pay an attorney to
Can my attorney send the documents to the defendant to shorten the waiting period?
No. The plaintiff’s attorney cannot provide that paperwork to the defendant. That would be an ethical violation.
Are we divorced as soon as the waiting period is over?
No. There has to be a date set for a judge to sign the divorce order.
Ok, lawsuit is filed, defendant is served, the applicable waiting period has passed. Then a hearing has to be scheduled. The defendant is entitled to 5 days notice, unless waived. Most counties have one of more designated dates for uncontested divorces. So the divorce hearing will be set for the next available date after the waiting period, which could be a week or even up to a month later. These days, these hearings are often done by Webex, and the client does not need to appear, but that varies from county to county.
Bottom line. The timeline for your divorce can vary. Your attorney can fill in those details for you in your jurisdiction and based on the facts of your case.