Dealing with a divorce or separation in Gaston County is a stressful process. A divorce is a major life change with long-lasting results and should be handled carefully to protect your family and assets. An experienced North Carolina family law attorney can help guide you through the difficult process and make sure your best interests are represented.
This article will detail (1) ground for filing for divorce in Gaston County; (2) the process of divorce and separation; (3) Gaston County family court information; (4) mediation in separation or divorce; and (5) the benefits of a North Carolina divorce lawyer to help in this process.
See our 7 Steps to a Successful Divorce for more information about divorce in North Carolina.
Filing for Divorce in Gaston County
When one or both spouses want to legally end a marriage, they have to file for divorce in court. Historically, dissolution of marriage required fault of one spouse, such as infidelity or abandonment. North Carolina is a “no-fault” state for divorce. No-fault divorce means that a spouse does not have to prove the fault of any party to justify divorce.
The requirements for divorce In North Carolina include:
- The couple must have lived apart for 12 months consecutively; and
- One spouse has been a resident of North Carolina for at least 6 months before filing for divorce.
Separation for 12 Months
Absolute divorce in North Carolina requires the couple to be separated for a year. One spouse has to live separately in a different residence than the other spouse. Generally, it does not count as living separately where a spouse:
- Sleeps on the couch;
- Sleeps in a different bedroom; or
- Spends most nights away then comes home to sleep occasionally.
A divorce generally requires a consistent period of separation for 12 months. If a couple decided to separate and stayed apart for 10 months and then had a change of heart, lived together for a week, then agreed divorce was the best option, they may have to restart the 12-month separation.
However, under North Carolina General Statute § 50-6, “isolated incidents of sexual intercourse between the parties shall not toll the statutory period required for divorce predicated on separated of one year.”
Generally, one party filing for divorce does not have to provide proof of separation for 1 year. However, if the other spouse challenges the separation, it may be helpful to have evidence that one spouse was living apart for a year or more. This may include:
- Rental agreements,
- Utility bills,
- Insurance bills, or
- Voter registration.
Resident for 6 Months
Filing for divorce in North Carolina also requires 6-month residency for either spouse. Evidence of residency may include driver's license, voter registration, place of employment, rental agreement, and utility bills.
Annulment in North Carolina
Annulment is like canceling the marriage as if it had never taken place. There is a limited option for annulment in North Carolina. In order to get an annulment, one spouse has to show:
- Either spouse was already married to another person at the time of the marriage;
- Marriage was entered through force or misrepresentation and lies of the other spouse;
- Either spouse was too young to enter a marriage without approval;
- The spouses are in a legally incestuous marriage;
- Either spouse was diagnosed as mentally ill at the time of marriage;
- Either spouse was incapacitated or under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of marriage and could not legally consent; or
- Either spouse was physically incapable of having sexual relations at the time of marriage and during the marriage.
Divorce Process in Gaston County
The process of getting a divorce depends on a number of factors, including:
- Whether the divorce is contested or uncontested,
- The couple tries mediation,
- The couple has children,
- Property involved, or
- Alimony or spousal support.
Generally, the divorce process begins by separation for 12 months. After 12 months of living under a different roof, either party can begin the process by filing for divorce in the county court where either spouse resides. Your North Carolina divorce lawyer will be able to file a complaint for absolute divorce on your behalf.
After filing the complaint for absolute divorce, the county sheriff will generally serve the complaint on the other spouse. The other spouse then generally has 30 days to respond by an “answer” to the complaint.
There may be a number of issues to decide before the divorce can be granted. The primary issues to decide include:
During the divorce hearing, the judge will hear testimony from both spouses and review any relevant evidence. The judge will then make a decision on granting the divorce and sign final divorce orders.
Gaston County Family Court
The Gaston County Courthouse is located at:
325 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Way
Gastonia, NC 28052
Hours of Operation:
Monday to Friday: 8:30 am to 5:00 pm
Parking and Directions:
The Gaston County Courthouse has a parking lot just off Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Way, north of Long Avenue. The parking lot has 179 paid parking spaces for the public. Parking ranges from $1 per hour to $5 per day. Failure to pay results in a citation. There is free parking available further north at West Walnut Avenue and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Way
Military Divorce in Gaston County
Members of the U.S. military may be stationed overseas or at a military base out of the state. Military members may also live in a different state than their non-military spouse and children. To file for divorce in North Carolina, one or both spouses generally has to have residency in the state for at least 6 months.
Being stationed in North Carolina for 6-months or more may be enough to establish in-state residency but a temporary stay is not the same as residency. Factors in showing residence include having a North Carolina driver's license and paying taxes in North Carolina.
Additionally, there may be an extended response period for members of the military who have been served with divorce papers. Military members may request an extension (or multiple extensions) to respond to a notice of divorce from the other spouse under the Soldiers' Civil Relief Act (SCRA). The court will review the request based where the service member is asking for an extension based on military service preventing them from answering the divorce notice.
Mediation for Divorce
Mediation is a type of alternative dispute resolution (ADR). Mediation allows both parties to make decisions and come to an agreement facilitated by a third-party mediator. Mediation can be a faster and less expensive way to settle disputes in a divorce. The spouses can decide to go through mediation at any time during the divorce process or may be ordered by the court to attend mediation.
Another alternative to litigation in a divorce is collaborative divorce. Collaborative divorce allows the parties to avoid dealing with divorce through the courts and negotiate a mutually agreeable divorce settlement. Benefits of a collaborative divorce in North Carolina include:
- Private negotiations;
- Control over final decisions;
- Less stressful for children involved; and
- Less time-consuming and less expensive than court.
The primary issues for mandatory mediation in a divorce include child custody and visitation and property division.
Child Custody in Divorce Mediation
An agreement on child custody and visitation schedules is generally ideal in a divorce. Leaving child custody decisions solely up to the court may result in custody and visitation schedules that are not ideal for either parent. Mediation can also be less confrontational than court litigation and save both parents time and money over courtroom disputes.
Property Distribution for Divorce
When the spouses cannot come to a mutual agreement about how to divide property in a divorce, they may be required to attend equitable distribution mediation with a third-party mediator. The mediator will listen to each party and help the parties identify the specific areas of dispute or disputed property.
Mediation allows individuals to come up with their own solution for disputes. If mediation is not successful, the court may determine how to distribute property, which may be less ideal for both parties.
Contacting a North Carolina Divorce Lawyer
An attorney is not mandatory for a divorce In North Carolina. However, divorce laws can be complex and basic mistakes or delays can result in forever losing out on certain claims in a divorce. It would be in your best interest to consult with an attorney who is well-versed in North Carolina divorce law before filing for divorce or responding to divorce papers to make sure your interests are represented.
For example, after filing for divorce or agreeing to a divorce, North Carolina law may prevent a party from filing claims for alimony or equitable distribution after divorce has been granted. Consulting with a family lawyer for advice will help you make a well-informed decision based on your options and circumstances for a divorce or separation in Gaston County.
Experienced Gaston County Divorce Attorneys
Divorce is a stressful process for spouses, children, and families. Either party in a divorce can benefit from the experienced legal advice that the skilled attorneys at Caulder & Valentine have to offer. We are here to help you protect your best interests and help you move on with your life. Contact us today for a consultation.