Difference Between Divorce and Separation in North Carolina

Divorce in North Carolina usually follows one year in which the couple is physically separated. In some cases, a couple goes through legal separation prior to their divorce. In a few cases, a divorce may be granted if one spouse has been declared legally insane and the couple has lived apart because of this illness for three years or more.

Because there is a difference between separation, legal separation and divorce in North Carolina, it is easy for someone who has just begun to go through the stressful process of ending their marriage to become confused.

The Raleigh separation and divorce lawyers of Charles R. Ullman & Associates can help you through the process of dissolving your marriage if you have determined that is what is best for you and your family.

In the meantime, the following provides an overview of the main differences between divorce and separation in North Carolina:

Separation in North Carolina

A couple must separate and live away from each other for at least one year before they can be divorced. If the couple reconciles, the calendar starts over if they decide to separate again.

In many cases, separation is a mutual agreement that one spouse will move out of the couple’s home. While separated, the couple is still married. However, they may develop a separation agreement to decide matters like division of assets, alimony, child custody and child support.

Legal Separation in North Carolina

If a North Carolina resident needs a legal order to remove their estranged spouse from the couple’s home prior to a divorce, they may seek a legal separation. This court order is known as “divorce from bed and board.” However, the order does not end the marriage.

In a filing for legal separation, the complaining spouse may allege the other party has:

  • Abandoned his or her family
  • Committed adultery
  • Maliciously turned the other out of doors
  • Endangered the life of the other by cruel or barbarous treatment
  • Become an excessive user of alcohol or drugs
  • Acted in some other way as to render the complaining spouse’s condition “intolerable” and his or her life “burdensome.”

The spouse who is a target of this complaint may contest the allegations. He or she may claim the allegations are untrue, that his or her spouse has previously condoned, forgiven or enabled the actions in the complaint or that their actions were in retribution for similar acts by the complaining spouse such as a retaliatory affair.

The target of a legal separation complaint may ask for the matter to be heard by a jury.

Once a legal separation is in effect, either spouse may seek orders or agreements pertaining to:

  • Support and alimony
  • Asset division
  • Child custody
  • Child support

Absolute Divorce in North Carolina

North Carolina is a no-fault divorce state. This means couples can divorce without legally assessing blame. It can be a perfectly amicable process that proceeds after a married couple has lived apart for one year.

Regardless of how it arrives in court, absolute divorce in North Carolina requires a judge’s order. The judge makes final decisions about asset division, alimony, child custody and child support and any other related legal issues. If the judge is presented a separation agreement that both sides have already signed off on, the judge’s order will usually reflect that plan.

Once the judge signs the divorce order, the couple is no longer married.