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Contested vs. Uncontested Divorce in North Carolina (2023) – What’s the Difference?

When a couple decides to end their marriage in North Carolina, they then have to prepare themselves for the divorce process. There are multiple different types of divorce, which are affected by the unique circumstances of your case. The ability of you and your spouse to come to agreements, whether children are involved, and the opinions of you and your spouse will all influence the type of divorce you end up going through.

The two main types of North Carolina divorce are referred to as “contested” and “uncontested.”

Contested vs. Uncontested Divorce

An uncontested divorce occurs when a couple can come to fair agreements on each important aspect of their divorce without disputes. These agreements involve child custody, property division matters, spousal support, and more. If the couple agrees on all major decisions, they will not have to go to trial and instead can simply file for an uncontested divorce. This allows the divorce process to go much faster, as a judge simply needs to review and approve their agreements for the divorce to be finalized.

After one spouse serves the other with their divorce petition, the spouses can either agree on the set terms or disagree and go to court to make decisions. If a couple is unable to agree on the important matters of divorce and must go to trial to have decisions made, this is known as a “contested divorce.” Because contested divorces require multiple court dates to settle different matters, they are known for taking longer to finalize.

The Main Differences Between Contested and Uncontested Divorces in North Carolina

There are a few primary aspects that differentiate contested divorces from uncontested divorces. The main differences between the two include:

  • An uncontested divorce is a simpler, quicker divorce process due to less time spent in court.
  • In a contested divorce, the judge is the one who makes the final decisions on important matters. In an uncontested divorce, the spouses make the agreements themselves.
  • Uncontested divorces are not appealable, whereas decisions in a contested divorce can be.
  • Contested divorces require multiple trials, whereas an uncontested divorce may require just one hearing.

The North Carolina Divorce Process

An uncontested divorce follows the same beginning steps as an uncontested divorce but ends after the spouse is served and the couple and court agree on all matters. The average contested North Carolina divorce generally follows these steps:

File Divorce Petition

It is critical that you double-check your eligibility to file for divorce before proceeding. In North Carolina, a couple is required to be physically separated for at least one year before filing. Once you know you are eligible, you can then fill out your petition for divorce and pay the fee to have it filed.

Serve Spouse

Once the petition has been filed, you must then serve your spouse through one of the methods legally approved by the state. Your spouse can be served by:

  • Your county sheriff
  • A professional server
  • Through the mail
  • Any adult over 18 who is not involved with your divorce case

Once your spouse has been served, they have 30 days to either agree or disagree with your terms. If they agree, it becomes an uncontested divorce, and the process can be finalized. If your spouse disagrees, it becomes a contested divorce that must now go to court.

Decisions on Divorce Matters

If you and your spouse are unable to reach an agreement, your divorce will proceed to the trial phase, where the court will begin to make decisions for you. It is essential to have a lawyer at this point who can represent your needs and what you think is best for you and your family. This part of the divorce process can take the longest, as moving through the court with various trials can take an extended period of time.

Final Judgement

Once all important matters of your divorce have been addressed, including issues like child custody and support, spousal support, and property division, it will enter its final stages. Both spouses can make any final arguments they may have about the case, and then the judge will move into making their final judgment. Once the judge has made their final decision on all matters and approved the terms, your North Carolina divorce will then be finalized.


Q: How Long Does a Contested Divorce in North Carolina Take?

A: Not including the required one year of physical separation, a contested divorce generally takes around one year to finalize completely. After serving your spouse with the petition for divorce, they have 30 days to respond. The time spent at trial will vary, depending on the issues involved in the divorce.

Q: What Happens If My Spouse Refuses to Respond or Sign Papers?

A: If your spouse refuses to acknowledge your divorce petition in North Carolina, this does not mean that the divorce process will pause. Your spouse has 30 days to properly respond to your notice of divorce. If they do not, they can lose their ability to fight for what they want, and the court will make decisions by default.

Q: Are There Residency Requirements for a North Carolina Divorce?

A: Yes. If you are looking to file for divorce in North Carolina, you or your spouse must have been living in the state for at least six months. You must also have been separated for at least one year. Therefore, you should make sure that at least one of you has been residing in North Carolina for those six months before filing for divorce.

Q: Do I Have to Go to Court for an Uncontested Divorce in North Carolina?

A: In some cases, you may be able to avoid going to court completely if you and your spouse come to agreements that the judge approves. Generally, you may be required to go to the hearing to receive your divorce’s final judgment. A North Carolina divorce lawyer can help guide you through the process.

North Carolina Divorce Representation

If you are looking to file for divorce here in North Carolina, our team at Parsons Law, PA, is prepared to help you through the process. We understand that this can be an emotional, complicated time and are ready to work with you. To learn more about our expert legal services and how we may be able to assist you through a divorce, contact us today.