Divorce and Separation in North Carolina - What's the Difference

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What is the Difference between Separation and Divorce in North Carolina

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Many of our clients ask if there is a difference between getting separated and getting divorced.

The simple answer is YES, getting divorced is easy. Working through all the issues related to a separation can be the hard part.


Separation can have several stages.



The initial breakup of the relationship; meaning you and your spouse are residing in two different residences. You cannot just be sleeping in two different rooms in the same house.



You and your spouse need to identify and/or decide such things as:

  • How are you going to divide your marital property such as your house, retirement and other financial accounts?
  • When will the kids be with Mom or Dad
  • How much spousal or child support will you or your spouse have to pay?
  • What does it cost to pay the expenses associated with your home each month?


This process requires the assistance skilled attorneys to protect your interests.

  • Resolving issues like dividing the property, child custody and spousal or child support is the final chapter of your separation. There is no time frame on when these issues related to your separation are resolved. Generally it depends on each individual case and whether you and your spouse can agree or if the courts become involved to resolve the matters.
  • Remember, child custody and child support can be modified, in certain situations, so these types of issues could be ongoing.
  • All of these things can be pending or resolved prior to you and your spouse "getting divorced," i.e., obtaining a judgment from the court for an absolute divorce.


Absolute divorce is the legal termination of your marriage. This is a court-ordered judgment granted by the courts and does not include issues of property division, child custody, child support, or alimony. It simply dissolves your marriage and you and your spouse are now "single". The divorce judgment does NOT resolve issues like child custody, child or spousal support or property divisions.

Absolute divorce cannot be filed with the court in North Carolina until you have been physically separated and living apart for one year and one day. North Carolina is a "no-fault divorce" state, meaning that no one has to allege any fault, you and your spouse must just be living in two separate households with one person having the intent to remain permanently separate and apart. You do not need a separation agreement or any other document to be "separated" and start the clock ticking for the one-year-and-a-day rule.

Separation and absolute divorce are oftentimes misunderstood as being the same thing and certain family law issues such as equitable distribution or alimony must be resolved, i.e. filed with the court and preserved before the divorce judgment is entered. It is important to speak with an attorney to protect yourself, your family and your assets during the divorce process and before filing for divorce, and that's what we do.