When a married couple breaks up, legal separation is usually the first step toward divorce. When a couple divorces in North Carolina, they must go through a separation that includes physically living apart for at least one year.
North Carolina is a no-fault divorce state. This means couples can divorce without legally assessing blame. But a legal separation in North Carolina, known as a “divorce from bed and board,” does require a finding of fault. One estranged spouse usually resorts to seeking legal separation to get the other spouse removed from the home. But keep in mind: Legal separation is not necessary for a divorce.
Here are the five steps for obtaining a legal separation in North Carolina:
File the complaint
The legal paperwork, or the “complaint,” for obtaining a legal separation would be filed in the district court of the county where the couple – or at least one of them – lives. For instance, if you live in Raleigh or surrounding areas such as Cary or Wake Forest, you would file the complaint in Wake County District Court.
A spouse seeking a legal separation must show that the other spouse committed at least one of six acts, which would be stated in the legal complaint:
- Abandoned the family
- Threw the complaining spouse out
- Endangered the complaining spouse’s life
- Engaged in behavior that has made the complaining spouse’s condition “intolerable” and his or her life “burdensome”
- Uses alcohol or drugs excessively
- Committed adultery.
Present your case
In court, the spouse filing for separation would also have to show that he or she did nothing to provoke their spouse’s misconduct. The other spouse may also contest the complaint by demonstrating:
- The complaining spouse has forgiven such conduct in the past
- The complaining spouse has encouraged or enabled such conduct in the past, such as alcohol or drug use
- The spouse’s actions were in response to similar actions by the complaining spouse such as recrimination for an extramarital affair
- The allegations in the complaint are not true.
A spouse who is contesting a request for a legal separation may ask for the complaint to be heard before a jury.
Seek additional orders
Once you have obtained a legal separation, you may seek additional court orders for:
- Post-separation support and permanent alimony
- Asset division
- Child custody
- Child support.
Hire an experienced North Carolina divorce attorney
The lawyer you hire as your attorney protects you and your rights. Separation and divorce affect each spouse financially and emotionally, including issues involving child custody, child support and division of personal property. You will benefit from having a knowledgeable third party looking out for your interests from the start.
Pursuing a Legal Separation in North Carolina
As your marriage dissolves, if you find that you have to obtain a legal separation in order to begin to move on with your life, it is likely that you are not headed toward an amicable or easy divorce.
A request for divorce from bed and board can easily require extensive investigation followed by complex and adversarial litigation. A positive outcome is more likely with the assistance of someone who understands North Carolina divorce law and has experience applying the law to a variety of circumstances.