How to File for Legal Separation in North Carolina

By Stephanie Kurose, J.D.

How to File for Legal Separation in North Carolina

By Stephanie Kurose, J.D.

The term "legal separation" can mean different things depending on where you live. Some states, including North Carolina, do not recognize it as a formal legal status resulting in a separation decree. However, it is still a necessary aspect of the state's applicable laws. While you cannot file for separation, you generally cannot get a divorce without it.

Mother sitting solemnly on a couch while a father and daughter hug next to a suitcase

Getting Separated in North Carolina

In order to meet the state's requirements, you must be living in different homes, and at least one of you must have the intention that it be permanent. If you have ended your relationship but are still living in the same home—even if you are sleeping in different bedrooms—the state does not consider you legally separated.

It is not required that you file an agreement or other written document to be legally separated in North Carolina. However, it may be beneficial to create one because it can resolve many issues that typically arise when a couple decides to split up, such as who is responsible for paying certain bills and which spouse gets to continue living in the marital home. This type of agreement is essentially a contract between spouses who are separated or plan to do so very soon. The only requirements for a valid agreement is that it be in writing, signed by both parties, and notarized.

If, at any point during this period, the spouses wish to reconcile their relationship, they are free to do so. Reconciliation occurs once they voluntarily renew the marital relationship by either moving back in with each other or simply no longer intend that the separation be permanent.

Court-Ordered Separation

In some instances, North Carolina courts may order a couple to separate. This is called a "Divorce from Bed and Board," or DBB. These orders are only available under limited circumstances where the spouse requesting it can prove serious fault, such as adultery or drug abuse.

Spouses separated under a DBB order remain married until a divorce is obtained, but it grants them a legal separation. They can still create an agreement to resolve any issues as if they did so voluntarily, or they can also ask the court to resolve these issues through the DBB case.

As stated above, North Carolina requires that any couple undergoing this process must first be separated for at least one year and a day. Unlike some other states, North Carolina only allows for a no-fault divorce, which means that there are no circumstances where a couple can actually move forward until after the require time frame has passed. After a year, you can file, and as long as your spouse does not contest it by saying that you have not been separated for that long, your word is generally good enough for the court. Most divorces in the state are granted based on the couple's separation. North Carolina also requires that at least you or your spouse currently live in the state for at least six months before the divorce case is filed.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.