The Simplest Terms – Understanding North Carolina Divorce

Does your divorce lawyer sound like he’s speaking a foreign language? Surveys have shown that many clients report feeling intimidated by their attorneys because they discuss their cases using technical terms that don’t make sense. This is called legalese – and it can prevent you from getting the services you deserve unless you get a translation.

Using legal terminology is unavoidable in certain circumstances. You and your attorney are both responsible for making sure that you understand every aspect of your case. To help you understand some of the legal language you’ll likely hear during a divorce case in North Carolina, we have compiled a list of some of the typical terms:

  • Absolute divorce: Releases spouses of all legal responsibilities of the marriage
  • Alienation of affection: A claim that shows a third party acted in a way that caused or contributed to an irreparable break in a marriage
  • Alimony: Money that one spouse pays to another for maintenance and support
  • Contested: Any aspect of the divorce that one spouse disputes is referred to as “contested.” That means a court will decide how those issues will be settled. If there are no disagreements, the divorce is deemed uncontested.
  • Custody: How parents or the courts determine how children from the marriage will be cared for. This may include arrangements such as who the child lives with and how decisions about the child’s wellbeing will be made.
  • Discovery: The process of collecting information that is pertinent to the divorce proceedings. This includes bank statements, business records, property records, evidence of wrongdoing or any other information that your divorce lawyer wants to examine.
  • Dissolution: The legal ending of a marriage
  • Equitable distribution: North Carolina views marriage as a partnership to which each spouse makes valuable contributions. That generally means that both spouses are entitled to property acquired during the marriage. Most times, that comes out to an even split, although there are exceptions.
  • Grounds: A justifiable reason for taking legal action
  • Mediation: The process of using a qualified, neutral party to help resolve legal issues. A mediator cannot make legal decisions, and any agreements reached must result in signed court documents.
  • Motion: A request to the court or judge to make a decision on a legal matter
  • No-fault divorce: North Carolina is a no-fault divorce state, which means that you do not have to prove that one spouse is guilty of any wrongdoing in order to dissolve the marriage.
  • Prenuptial agreement: A contract signed before marriage that spells out financial responsibilities and how assets will be divided if a couple chooses to divorce
  • Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO): Establishes that one spouse is entitled to a portion of the other spouse’s retirement holdings and will not be subjected to tax penalties when the funds are transferred
  • Separation: Living apart from a spouse with the intention of never returning to the marital home. In North Carolina, you must maintain a separate residence.
  • Visitation: An agreement for how children will visit with the parent who does not live with them.

These are only a handful of divorce terms that you may hear when talking with your attorney. If you have questions about your North Carolina divorce, our NC family law attorneys are here to help. Call (877) 589-6937 or contact us online for a consultation.


Charles Ullman & Associates provides you respected, experienced and knowledgeable divorce and family law attorneys. You can trust us to help you through the legal process efficiently and effectively so you can transition to the next phase of your life. Our community involvement reaches beyond charitable support of important causes. We launched our own movement in Fraternities4Family and provide scholarships to able students in need.