Divorce Checklist: What You Need Before You Leave

Physically separate from spouse for 1 year

In order to get a divorce in North Carolina, you need to be first separated from your spouse for one year. This, in all actuality, is literally the only thing you are required to do before you are legally allowed to divorce your spouse. However, if you want to make sure your finances, property, and children are properly protected going forward, you’ll want to keep reading.

Maintain a record of all of your bills and finances

Yes, ALL of your bills and finances. This includes everything from your monthly income to your cable bill. Assuming that you do not have a pre-nuptial agreement stating exactly what each spouse is entitled to, your marital estate will most likely be divided 50/50. You’ll want to know exactly what your financials currently look like as well as what they were at the date of separation. This will allow you to calculate just how much that 50% really is as help you figure out whether or not you will require spousal support.

File a child custody action if necessary

If you have children, you may need to file a custody action if there is debate about where your children will reside during your trial separation period. This may not be necessary if you are amicable with your partner, but it is often the case that a temporary custody action is filed in case of issues that may take place before the divorce is finalized. For instance, while you and your spouse may plan on each spending time with your daughter every other week, this doesn’t account for business trips, holidays, birthdays, or other special custody situations.

Draft alimony agreement

In cases where alimony or spousal support may be on the table, you should make sure to draft a comprehensive alimony agreement before finalizing the divorce. It becomes very difficult to modify alimony after the divorce has been finalized (short of major extenuating circumstances regarding the finances of either party) so you will want to make sure you determine a fair alimony plan in advance. 

Draft child custody agreement

If you have children, this may be one of the most important agreements you’ll need to draft. You’ll need to break down not just who gets custody and on what schedule, you’ll also need to include information about holidays and birthdays, a parenting plan for what is and isn’t allowed in the presence of your child regardless of which parent they are visiting, and any other information that will be important in raising your child.

Draft child support agreement

Similar to alimony, making sure your child support agreement is drafted and fully equipped to give the custodial parent the means necessary for keeping your children happy and healthy is essential before finalizing your divorce. You can calculate an amount that is fair to both parties using our child support calculator.

Draft property division agreement

In addition to resolving issues concerning your children and spousal support, the final agreement that you will absolutely want to draft is a property division agreement. This will involve going through all of your finances and possessions and splitting them down the middle, aiming for a clean 50/50 split unless otherwise designated in a prenuptial agreement. Typically, all four of the above agreements would be encompassed in a separation agreement.

Settle your separation agreement

Once you have drafted how to resolve all of the issues, it’s time to agree on the final decisions. You likely want to hire a mediator for this in order to help you keep your sanity and not find yourself fighting over who gets to keep the antique garden gnomes. This is the last major (though not required) step towards divorce.

Complete and verify divorce complaint with a notary public

You must have a notary witness you signing your divorce complaint in order to verify that you are indeed the signer and that the signature has not been forged. Find a notary, whether at your local bank, at your attorney’s office, or even on the internet and have witness the signing. Due to the coronavirus pandemic you may also be able to use a video notary to complete your signing so you won’t need to come in contact with anyone.

File a complaint for divorce with county clerk of court

One of the spouses will need to file the complaint with their county of residence. You must file with the county you have resided in for the last 6 months. If you or your spouse has moved out of county, the spouse who files first will be the one whose county has jurisdiction.

Serve divorce complaint on spouse

The final step is to serve the complaint. Due to legal reasons, you are not allowed to serve the complaint to them yourself. Instead, it can be filed by certified mail, by your local sheriff, or by publication in cases where you can’t reach them. Your spouse has 30 days to respond to the complaint. If no answer is given, the divorce goes through by default.


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