Answering Complaint for Divorce

Getting served with divorce papers from the Sheriff's department can come as a shock. Even if the divorce is not unexpected, it can be embarrassing to be served legal papers at your home or where you work. Going through a divorce can be difficult, especially when children are involved. 

With the help of an experienced North Carolina divorce lawyer on your side, it can take some of the stress of divorce off your shoulders and make sure your interests are protected. If you have any questions about responding to divorce papers in North Carolina, contact us for help.

Service of the Complaint for Divorce

The “complaint” is the name for the initial pleading in a civil action. The Plaintiff is the person filing for divorce and the person responding to the complaint is the Defendant. A divorce complaint can be served through Certified Mail or using the Sheriff's Department. 

The complaint generally includes: 

  • The name of the individual filing the complaint (Plaintiff);
  • Name of the spouse (Defendant);
  • At least one spouse is a resident of North Carolina, and has been for at least six months;
  • The parties have lived continuously separate and apart for at least one year before filing the complaint; 
  • The names and ages of any children born of the marriage; 
  • The plaintiff understands that once the divorce is granted, it will be too late to file a claim for equitable distribution of property and debts or spousal support. 

Responding to the Complaint

You should consult with a family law attorney as soon as possible after being served with divorce papers. If you fail to raise certain legal claims in your response, you may be barred from later seeking recovery for the following:

  • Claim for Equitable Distribution of Marital Property
  • Alimony or Post Separation Support

There is a limited amount of time to respond to the complaint. Generally, you have 30 days to file an “Answer” to the complaint. If you need more time, you may be able to request an extension for an additional 30 days. Do not wait until after the deadline or you may have waived your rights to respond to the complaint. 

Uncontested Divorce 

If you do not contest the divorce and there are no disputes, you can waive the 30-day period and file a Waiver and Answer form and file it with the Clerk of the Court. However, make sure you do not have any issues in dispute and do not want to seek alimony or division of marital property. Once the divorce is granted, it will be too late to go back and ask for alimony or marital property. 

Disputing the Divorce 

If you disagree with the divorce or do not want to get a divorce, you may have limited options to dispute the divorce. North Carolina is a no-fault state for divorce, which means your spouse does not have to provide a reason or basis for getting a divorce, only that the union is irretrievably broken. Even if you disagree that the marriage is over, only one spouse needs to claim the marriage is over to get a divorce. 

There are two requirements for filing for divorce in North Carolina. If either of these requirements is not met, you may be able to dispute the divorce. An absolute divorce requires: 

  • At least one spouse is a resident of North Carolina for at least six months; and
  • The parties have lived continuously separate and apart for at least one year before filing the complaint. 

If neither spouse has been a resident of North Carolina for at least six months or the parties have not lived continuously separate for at least one year, you can challenge the divorce. However, if the requirements have not been met, you may only be delaying the divorce. Once the residency and separation requirements are met, you may not be able to challenge the basis for a divorce in North Carolina. 

Alimony and Post-Separation Support

If you want alimony or post-separation support in a divorce, you have to make a request for support. Once a divorce is granted, then it will be too late to request alimony. Talk to your divorce attorney about alimony, whether you are eligible for spousal support, and how to make sure you get the money you are owed.

Alimony is generally available for a spouse who is substantially dependent upon the other spouse or substantially in need of maintenance and support. There are a number of factors that determine the amount, duration, and availability of support, including: 

  • Marital misconduct;
  • Earnings and earning capacity of each spouse; 
  • Contributions made to the marriage; 
  • Age and physical and mental condition; 
  • Property owned by each spouse; and
  • Standard of living.

Equitable Distribution of Marital Property 

If you want distribution of marital property in a divorce, you have to make a claim of equitable distribution of marital property. Once a divorce is granted, then it will be too late to request distribution of marital property. Marital property includes any real or personal property acquired during the course of the marriage. This may include the family home, land, vehicles, collectibles, furniture, retirement plans, and marital debt.

Responding to Divorce Papers in Shelby

Responding to divorce papers can be difficult, especially when the divorce is unexpected. However, you must take action to protect your property rights and provide for your family after being served divorce papers. An experienced divorce attorney can help take the burden off your shoulders during this difficult time. If you have any questions about answering a divorce complaint in North Carolina, contact the Caulder & Valentine Law Firm, PLLC. Contact us online or by phone at 704-470-2440 today for a consultation.