Divorce in North Carolina: Average Cost and Length
The cost of a self-represented "absolute" divorce in North Carolina is $225 to file the paperwork. There is an additional $40 in fees to serve the documents and change your name.
However, this kind of divorce has prerequisites that can be costly, and you might end up needing an attorney for your case.
The Cost of Traditional Divorce in North Carolina
If you cannot agree on divorce terms with your spouse, then you may need to follow the traditional divorce route, which can be around $13,000 from start to finish. This involves, among other things:
- Divorce attorney fees ranging from $100-$300 per hour
- Serving divorce papers (called a summons) to your ex ($30 for a sheriff to do it or $7 to send it via mail)
- Filing all documents with the clerk of court in your county
- Maiden name change documents ($10 fee)
- Court costs throughout the divorce process (usually $96 each time)
This cost does not include future alimony or child support (if they are part of your divorce agreement). It also does not include the cost of maintaining two households. Many divorce cases require you to live apart first, which means paying double bills, or taking on your bills or mortgage alone.
Couples with children can expect to pay about $6,000 more to determine parenting plans and attend custody hearings with an attorney.
How Much Are Divorce Filing Fees in North Carolina?
Filing fees for North Carolina county courts are reasonable. The first form you need to file is called a complaint, which explains why you want a divorce, and any facts in the case. You can expect to pay around $225 for the documents and filing fees.
If you have an amicable or "uncontested" divorce, then you will file the documents and may not need much additional time with an attorney. If this is a "contested" divorce where both sides cannot agree, you may need to file additional paperwork and may need more time with your attorney before you file.
- Contested divorce cost: $225 plus extra costs and attorney's fees to go to court until an agreement is found
- Uncontested/absolute divorce cost: $225 plus attorney's fees for any hours you need with an attorney
If you cannot afford the costs of filing for divorce, you can choose to register as "indigent." This helps residents on SNAP (food stamps), TANF, SSI, or who are receiving benefits from Work First. If you file the correct forms, you will not have to pay the $225 filing fees or the $30 fee for serving documents.
How Much Does a Divorce Lawyer Cost in North Carolina?
Lawyers are generally paid by the hour at $100 to $300 per hour. It typically takes a handful of hours to determine each item, such as:
- Marital property division (including who gets the house)
- How to divide debts
- How much child support will be
- Who gets custody
- How much spousal support you need (if any)
Once decided, your attorney will write up the final separation agreement, and all parties will sign it. If you can come to agreements quickly, then you will save money. If you need to go to court, you will pay more.
However, do not just give in on property or financial support you really want. An attorney or mediator works to make sure your side is heard. Your attorney can use numerous tactics to help you come to a fair agreement.
Your attorney's experience can determine how long your case takes, and you can always decide to let something go after it has gone back and forth a few times. You are the client, so you get to choose how much you are willing to spend on the negotiation phase, and whether your case goes to court.
Can I File for Divorce in North Carolina Without a Divorce Lawyer?
Yes, residents have the option to file for divorce "pro se," which means you represent yourself. This will save you money if you do not make any mistakes, use correct information, and understand local courts' rules. It is also easier if you do not have complex assets to divide and you don't want spousal support.
A judge needs to sign off on alimony or property division before they sign the divorce forms. However, it is common for people to not raise these claims in time. The order in which you complete this process is essential.
When Should I Get a Divorce Lawyer?
It can be helpful to have a lawyer if you cannot agree on property division, debts, or other significant issues. If your spouse does not want to split things fairly, a family law attorney will step in to fight for your side and work to get you a fair share.
It is also smart to use an attorney if there is domestic violence or minor children with child support or child custody matters. These can become complex, and judges can make decisions for you in court if you don't have an attorney.
Keep in mind: Once a judge signs the final divorce papers, you cannot go back to court for property division or spousal support. You will waive the right to ask for these things once the case is closed. You may be able to change a support amount or child custody order through a motion to modify if circumstances change in the future. If you have any concerns about the process, speaking to North Carolina law firm first is the safest option.
How Long Will a Divorce Take in North Carolina?
While the court's approval of your divorce may not take much time, the entire divorce process is quite long. For example, an absolute divorce form requires couples to separate for one year before they file.
You or your spouse must also live in the state for at least six months before you can file for divorce in North Carolina.
The overall process takes about 500 days and can look like this:
- Live apart for one year for an absolute divorce
- Fill out the forms (can take 1-3 days to gather the correct information)
- File the papers with your county clerk (must be during the workweek and business hours)
- Mail or serve the documents to your ex (generally 1-4 days)
- Wait during the 30-day waiting period (mandatory in North Carolina)
- Set a date for the hearing (depends on you, your spouse's, and the court's schedule)*
- Attend the hearing with all paperwork and agreements
- Sign documents and get the judge's final sign off
If you need an expedited divorce option, your attorney can petition the courts (for example, if one of you is leaving for the military or there is abuse in the marriage).
*Note that divorce can take much longer if you and your spouse do not agree on the issues involved and need to attend multiple hearings or settlement conferences. Also, North Carolina requires that parents participate in the Custody Mediation and Visitation Program in all cases involving child custody. This includes an orientation class and mediation session to help you determine how you will work together post-divorce. Mediation typically takes place before your court hearing.
Divorce Can Look Complex, but You Don't Have to Do It Alone
The forms, documents, civil action cover sheet, petitions, summons, affidavits, divorce packet, and filing process can feel like too much to handle. Once you add in discussing complex decisions with your ex, and trying to plan ahead for the unknown future, the whole process can be overwhelming.
With the right resources, you can file for divorce on your own. If that makes you nervous, divorce attorneys are often available to answer questions on a per hour basis. Some offer payment plans or divorce packages.
Remember: You do not need to go through this process alone if you do not want to. Taking a hybrid approach with some DIY elements and partnering with a divorce attorney is a common approach.
To others, it can be worth the money and peace of mind to know the divorce complaint is being handled quickly and correctly by an attorney.
Next Steps: Search for a Local Attorney
Contact a qualified attorney.