Understanding “No-Fault” Divorce

In 1999, Park Overall starred in the movie The Price of a Broken Heart, which was based on the true story of North Carolina couple Dot and Joseph Hutelmyer, who were happily married, at least until Joseph got romantically involved with his secretary. Dot sued her husband’s lover for alienation of affection and after the dust settled, was awarded a $1 million verdict.

North Carolina is one of six states that still allows Alienation of Affection suits, which can target lovers, in-laws and any other people who interfere with the happiness of a marriage.

According to North Carolina attorneys, only about 200 marriages a year are dissolved due to alienation of affection, meaning that most marriages in North Carolina do not come to such a dramatic or expensive end. No-fault divorces are more common solutions to bringing an unhappy marriage to an end.

What is a no-fault divorce?

A no-fault divorce is a divorce that holds neither party at fault for the end of the marriage. Many divorce petitions list irreconcilable differences or incompatibility as the reason for the dissolution of the union.

Every U.S. state has a no-fault divorce law. In North Carolina, this type of divorce is called an uncontested divorce. What sets North Carolina and a handful of other states apart from the majority is that they require a couple to be legally separated for a set amount of time before they can get divorced. In North Carolina, a couple must be legally separated for a year before they can officially get divorced. Other states have different time limits, such as a lengthy five years in Idaho and six months in Minnesota and Louisiana.

What steps to take

If you want to file for a no-fault or uncontested divorce in North Carolina, there are several steps you need to take, including:

  • One Year of Separation. You and your spouse must have lived apart in different residences for one year.
  • File a Complaint for Divorce or Dissolution of Marriage. Some counties clerk of court offices provide the forms. In many other counties, like Gaston, you must hire an attorney or prepare your paperwork yourself.
  • Serve your spouse with the Complaint for Divorce. This can be done via personal delivery by a sheriff, registered or certified mail, through a delivery service such as FedEx or, if these methods fail, through a notice placed in the local paper where you believe your spouse resides, once a week for three weeks to meet legal criteria.
  • Your spouse must file a response within 30 days, and if he or she fails to do so, the divorce may proceed by default.
  • Other issues may be addressed as part of the divorce. While it isn’t necessary to work out alimony, child support, custody, or other issues, now is a good time to sort these issues out so the final divorce decree goes smoothly.
  • If your spouse has not filed a response or has filed a response agreeing to your complaint, a court date will be set and your no-fault or uncontested divorce will be granted.

NOTABLE: While a no-fault divorce eliminates the drawn-out, sometimes excruciating court battles that can take years to settle, some believe that no-fault divorces have led to a higher divorce rate in the U.S., and the National Organization of Women’s New York chapter wrote an op-ed in the New York Times in opposition to no-fault divorce, because it could sway a judge to determine alimony and division of property without considering everything that led to the breakup of the marriage.

Whether there is a specific reason for you to end your marriage, or things just aren’t working out, call Attorney Regina Taylor today. She and her team will help guide you through the divorce process and make the transition as smooth as possible. Give her a call at 704-861-0700.

Written by N.C. Adoption Law Center

N.C. Adoption Law Center

We work hard to provide all our clients with the best and and most helpful legal services. Our attorneys specialize in adoption and other family law cases including divorce, child custody, child support, guardianship, and more.