A divorce action begins with the filing of a complaint in which the moving party asks for relief from the court as it relates to the other party. Filing a complaint or motion starts the pleadings phase, which may include an answer (where the defendant’s answers the plaintiff’s allegations contained in the complaint), counterclaims (where the defendant brings his or her own claims and allegations), a reply (where the plaintiff replies to the defendant’s counterclaims), and potentially a number of other motions and complaints. The pleading phase may last anywhere from 30 days to several months depending on how many pleadings are involved and whether the parties request extensions of time. It is important to note that any pleading not specifically denied is deemed admitted.
Complaints for uncontested divorce in North Carolina are typically pretty straightforward, and usually go unanswered unless the responding party is challenging any of the pleadings or wants to bring counterclaims. A basic divorce complaint will meet all statutory requirements, including but not limited to jurisdiction and the basis for the divorce (typically one year of separation). NC is a no-fault divorce state, meaning the court will not consider fault basis as a ground for support for divorce, and allegations of fault are not typically included in an uncontested divorce complaint.
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After the pleadings phase has ended (in an uncontested divorce, this usually occurs 30 days after the defendant has been served assuming the defendant does not file an answer), either party may move the court for summary judgment. A summary judgment action is basically saying to the court that each party has had an opportunity to respond, that there is no dispute as to the material facts supporting the divorce action, and that therefore the moving party should be granted the relief he or she seeks (i.e., the divorce). Along with the summary judgment action, a notice of hearing is filed (amongst other things) in which the clerk will assign a hearing date for the final divorce matter. The hearing date is typically set 2-3 weeks out from the date summary judgment is filed.
We typically tell our divorce clients that the divorce process usually takes approximately 2-3 months from start to finish assuming that service goes smoothly. There are measures that may speed this process up assuming that both parties are in agreement and wish to expedite the process. However, expediting the process will typically involve each party having his or her own attorney given potential ethical considerations.
Prism's Charlotte divorce lawyer is well-versed in the rules and laws surrounding divorce matters and is available to help in Mecklenburg and Cabarrus counties in North Carolina, including the cities of Charlotte, Huntersville, Concord, Harrisburg, Matthews, Kannapolis, and Mint Hill. Located in the greater Charlotte / Concord area and have questions? Call Prism at 704-412-1442 to speak with a divorce attorney….OR, complete the contact form on this page and an attorney will contact you shortly.
Once the complaint is filed, the plaintiff is responsible for properly “serving” the defendant with the complaint (and the civil summons which is filed simultaneously with the complaint). Service can be achieved in a number of different manners, most typically by either certified mail with return receipt requested or by sheriff. Once the defendant is served, he or she has 30 days to “answer” the complaint and the plaintiff then has 30 days to “reply” to the answer as discussed above in the pleadings section. Proof of service must also be filed with the court which will vary slightly in form depending on how service was accomplished.
Each county differs slightly regarding how divorce hearings are handled. Most counties require a brief hearing in which each party has an opportunity to be heard and in which the judge reviews the file. The judge may ask the parties questions during the hearing. Assuming that neither party creates issue at the hearing and that all required documentation has been properly filed and served, the divorce will be granted. It is traditional for the moving party to present the judge with a divorce judgment for signature.
Other counties, such as Mecklenburg county, do not hold a formal hearing. In Mecklenburg county, a “hearing date” is set, but it basically involved the judge reviewing the file to ensure that all required steps have been completed. Neither parties nor attorneys attend the hearing. Assuming the file is complete and correct, the judge will grant the divorce and the divorce judgment (which is submitted at the time of filing for summary judgment) will be signed and mailed out to the parties (assuming additional copies of the divorce judgment and self-addressed and stamped envelopes were included…if not, parties may pick a copy of the decree from the civil file viewing room on the 3rd floor of the Mecklenburg County courthouse).
Please be reminded that this is an oversimplification of the divorce process, and there are additional documents not mentioned herein that must be completed and/or filed in order for the divorce to be granted.
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Written by Bill Hunter, Prism Family Law Firm, 9/12/17
The following blog written by Prism's Charlotte, NC based divorce lawyer is designed to be a brief overview of what can be complex legal scenarios and is not meant to provide legal advice. When involved in a divorce proceeding, it is important to contact an attorney who is licensed in your particular jurisdiction. Prism's attorney is licensed to practice law in the state of North Carolina, and practice primarily in Mecklenburg and Cabarrus counties.
A divorce dispute can be a lengthy process which may vary greatly in nature depending on the specific circumstances involved in a case. The claim of divorce may be a stand-alone claim or may be brought along with a number of additional claims, including but not limited to child custody, child support, post separation support/alimony, and equitable distribution. However, North Carolina is a “bifurcated” state when it comes to divorce, meaning that each claim associated with divorce, including the divorce itself, is considered as a separate claim. Therefore, regardless of what claims are brought along with a divorce complaint, the procedure involved for the divorce claim remains unchanged. North Carolina General Statutes outline many of the basic requirements of the divorce process, which are often supplemented by differing local rules from county to county across the state.