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North Carolina Family Law: An Overview

Some of the most common cases brought to North Carolina courthouses include divorces, child custody and support and marital property division. These and other topics including marriage, adoption, prenuptial agreements are frequent family law issues.

North Carolina’s family laws are meant to help resolve often emotional family disputes or concerns over these various topics. Likewise, family law attorneys work with families to navigate these complex laws and protect their rights while serving their interests.

If you have a family law case in Charlotte, Raleigh, Winston-Salem or elsewhere in North Carolina, LawInfo is your source for information and legal help. LawInfo’s North Carolina Family Law section includes legal overviews, summaries of state laws and other resources to help you make the right decisions for you and your family. North Carolina family law attorneys can assist you with any of the following topics (and many more).

North Carolina Marriage Requirements

Like with every other state, North Carolina has a set of requirements that engaged couples must meet to be legally married. These requirements include:

  • One or both parties aged 14 or 15 years old and who is/are expecting a child must attain the approval of a district court judge.
  • Either party aged 16 or 17 years old must attain written parental or guardian consent.
  • Parties aged 18 years or older do not require consent.
  • Interfamily marriages are prohibited excluding first cousins and beyond. Double first cousins are also prohibited from marrying.
  • Neither party may be already married to a third party. Proof of divorce from a previous marriage may be required.

North Carolina Marriage License

When you and your partner are ready to get married, make sure to plan for applying for a marriage license before your wedding. While there’s no waiting period after getting your license, you’ll need to have your wedding within 60 days of receiving it before the license expires.

There are no residency requirements for obtaining a North Carolina marriage license. Licenses are also valid statewide, meaning that you don’t have to marry in the county where you applied for the license. You can either apply for a license in-person at your local Register of Deeds or on a North Carolina county government website, whichever option is available and preferable.

North Carolina Divorce Requirements

If your marriage seems to be coming to an end, don’t assume that you can simply get divorced for any reason in North Carolina. Like other states, North Carolina has a set of legally acceptable grounds for divorce in addition to a residency requirement.

One or both spouses must have been a North Carolina resident for six months or longer before filing for a divorce. A spouse (the plaintiff) may then file for one of two divorce types:

  • Absolute divorce (standard) grounds:
    • Both spouses lived separately and apart for one year or longer.
    • Both spouses lived separately and apart for three years and continue to do so because one spouse is incurably insane according to expert testimonies from two doctors.
  • Divorce from Bed and Board (legal separation) grounds:
    • The other spouse (the respondent) abandoned his/her family.
    • The respondent forced the plaintiff out of their family home with malicious intent.
    • The respondent cruelly or barbarously endangered the plaintiff’s life.
    • The respondent made life for the plaintiff unbearable from shame, humiliation, or other indignities OR from the respondent being an excessive alcoholic or drug user.
    • The respondent committed adultery.

A divorce from bed and board isn’t an absolute divorce in that it is only a legal separation. Neither party has the right to legally remarry until an absolute divorce is obtained.

Distribution of Marital Property in North Carolina

When a couple gets divorced, they don’t necessarily get half of everything they own like most people think. Only a few states use this “community property” legal method of dividing marital property in a 50/50 split. North Carolina, on the other hand, uses the equitable distribution method of dividing marital property.

In equitable distribution, only marital propertyópersonal and real property bought or earned during the marriageóis considered by the court for division and distribution. Property attained from gifts, inheritance, or personal injury insurance payouts during the marriage normally aren’t considered, though.

While an equal division of marital property is possible in equitable distribution, property is often divided disproportionately in a manner deemed fair by the court. The court determines a fair division ratio based on a number of factors based on each party’s situations and needs. The fault grounds of a divorce are also considered and may lead to the guilty party receiving a smaller percentage of the marital property. Child custody and support are taken into consideration, too.

When Do I Need a North Carolina Family Law Attorney?

Whether you need a family law attorney depends on a number of factors specific to your case. There is no one-size-fits-all answer. Few couples need a lawyer to get married but attorneys may be required if there’s a prenuptial agreement involved.

Individuals often benefit from hiring an attorney when dealing with divorce, child support, and especially child custody matters. Because emotions can run high during some divorces, hiring an attorney to negotiate and resolve difficult issues can be invaluable.

Many lawyers offer free initial consultations, so it may be worth your time to speak with an experienced North Carolina family law attorney if you have additional questions.