Family · North Carolina

Divorce and Children in North Carolina What to Expect and How to Prepare

Rich Gittings

Mar 8, 2024

The divorce rate in America is relatively high – half of first marriages end in divorce, and that number is even higher for second and third marriages. Being common does not make them any less difficult, though. A divorce or separation is considered one of the most stressful life events, so it’s no surprise that spouses going through this process look for resources to help them and their children cope with divorce.

North Carolina Divorce Process

North Carolina requires that spouses go through a one-year period of separation before getting officially divorced, and this requirement exists for all married couples without exception, other than a rare 3-year required separation for a person with certain mental conditions. Unlike many other states, North Carolina only allows no-fault divorces and does not grant fault-based divorces.

What this means is that fault has no effect on filing for divorce in North Carolina. Certain aspects of a divorce, such as alimony and child custody, may be impacted by fault, but it does not change a person’s ability to file for divorce.

So, the first step in getting a divorce in North Carolina is being separated from your spouse for one year and one day. This is the very first day a party may file for divorce. Then you can file a divorce complaint, along with the following:

  • A summons

  • A Servicemembers Civil Relief Act Declaration

  • A Domestic Civil Action Cover Sheet

If you want the court to decide how your assets and debts will be divided, you must request what is called equitable distribution. This request needs to be made before a final divorce judgment is entered. Similarly, if you want the court to decide spousal support and alimony, a request must be properly filed prior to the divorce becoming final.

Spouses with children may also need the court’s assistance with custody, visitation, and support, and those matters can be included in the divorce complaint or as separate filings.

Child Custody in North Carolina

Parents are not required to have a court order to determine child custody in North Carolina; however, a custody order may be necessary if parents cannot agree on their child’s care. Without a court order or custody set forth in a separation agreement, both legal parents have the same rights as long as they are on the child’s birth certificate. Even if separated or divorcing spouses can co-parent effectively without a court order, there may be instances when having one can save time and hassle, such as if schools or doctors’ offices require this documentation.

If a custody and visitation case does go to court, a judge will base the entire custody determination on the best interests of the child. North Carolina law states that the court will consider any factor that is relevant to promote the welfare of the child.

Another aspect of North Carolina custody cases to consider is that mediation is usually required before a judge will consider a custody matter or enter an order although some counties will allow a hearing for temporary custody prior to the completion of mediation. Mediation is a process in which an objective third-party mediator guides the parents toward compromise and resolution; it is intended to help parents communicate and reach a custody agreement without going to court. The parties’ attorneys do not participate in the mediation process.

A judge may waive this requirement, meaning parents do not have to go through mediation before trial, but a motion requesting a waiver must be filed. This may be granted if you meet one of the reasons for exemption. It is a favorable option to participate in mediation in many cases because mediation is meant to be an amicable process that reduces stress surrounding child custody disputes.

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Calculating Child Support in North Carolina

The North Carolina Child Support Guidelines are used to calculate child support in most cases. The Guidelines use a set formula that calculates support based on various factors, including:

  • Both parents’ income

  • Childcare expenses

  • Health insurance costs

  • Custody and visitation arrangements

  • Extraordinary expenses

Either party may file a request that the court deviate upward or downward from the guideline amount of child support. A court may not use the child support guidelines if it finds using the guideline formula would be unjust or inappropriate.

Deviation upwards from the guidelines most often occurs when the calculated support amount will not meet the reasonable needs of the child or when the parent paying support has a very high income.

Preparing Your Children for Your Divorce

The hardest part of this process may be preparing your children for your divorce. Children have a limited understanding of the complex nature of adult relationships, and this is especially true if your children are young. In addition to figuring out custody and visitation arrangements, dividing property, moving into a new home, opening separate bank accounts, and preparing for the dozens of other tasks involved in a divorce, you will also have the difficult job of helping your children cope with this change.

An important thing to consider is how destabilizing divorce can be for everyone involved. Children need stability to develop, so keeping them insulated from the whirlwind of separation and divorce is one of the most beneficial ways you can help them during this time.

Here are some tips for preparing your children for your divorce:

Get on the same page with your spouse.

You may not want to talk to your spouse, and it may seem impossible that you’ll agree on anything, but discussing how you’ll break the news to your kids is critical. It is often a good idea to plan ahead for this conversation with your children and even practice what you’ll say. Think about when, where, and how you’ll talk about the divorce with your kids.

Be prepared for delayed responses and subtle changes.

Kids cope with stress very differently than adults. Keep in mind that your child is still learning how best to deal with strong emotions and difficult situations. They may seem fine at first but then have outbursts or changed behavior weeks or months later. Your children may also only show small changes in their routines or moods despite struggling with strong emotions. Patience, understanding, and support go a long way toward helping your children cope with your divorce and accepting their new normal.

Help them understand it’s not their fault.

It’s critical that children understand their parents’ divorce is not their fault. How you approach this will depend on your child, and you are in the best position to determine what they can comprehend. Within reason, you can discuss the divorce to help your kids process it in a healthy way. This does not mean giving your kids details of why your relationship ended, but it does mean explaining that the divorce is in no way because of them.

Tell your kids what to expect.

Helping your kids understand what to expect from their new situation is reassuring for them. Again, this will depend on how old your children are, as well as numerous other factors, so use your judgment. It can be helpful to explain what will stay the same and what will change and remind them that both of their parents will continue to be a part of their lives.

Guidance from a North Carolina Divorce Lawyer

Navigating a divorce with children can seem like a full-time job. From preparing for settlement or litigation and adjusting to your new normal to helping your children understand and cope with what divorce means for your family, you have enough on your plate. At Bull City Legal Services, our North Carolina divorce lawyer will handle your case with the care and dedication it deserves. Contact us to schedule your consultation.

*DISCLAIMER: The purpose of this website is informational - no attorney-client relationship is created by using this website or reading this blog. No legal advice is intended. If you have questions about a current or potential legal problem, you should always contact an attorney directly for specific advice. Results described on this website are meant to describe the work and experience of our Firm. The uncertainty & risk inherent in litigation, as well as the specific individual details of each case mean that results or a particular outcome are never guaranteed. This website is provided “as is,” without any warranty of any kind, express or implied.

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