Contested Divorce in North Carolina

By Heather Frances J.D.

A contested divorce arises when spouses cannot agree on one or more terms of the divorce, such as child custody, property division or alimony. Since these issues must be addressed before a divorce judgment is entered, North Carolina courts step in to make decisions when spouses cannot agree. Contested divorces require more time and are often more expensive than uncontested divorces.


North Carolina law allows spouses to divorce for two reasons, or grounds: one year’s separation or incurable insanity and a three-year separation. These are both considered no-fault grounds. North Carolina has abolished all fault-based grounds, such as adultery and cruel treatment. The spouse who files for the divorce can list either ground as her reason for the divorce, but the other spouse can dispute it. For example, the responding spouse could argue they do not qualify for divorce since they have not been separated for a year.


If spouses cannot agree on custody arrangements for their children, the court will issue its own custody decisions based on the best interests of the child. North Carolina courts consider many factors to reach a decision about the child’s best interests, but there is no clear list of these factors in North Carolina law. The judge may consider topics such as the capacity of each parent to act in his child’s best interests, continuity of environment for the child and health of both parents.

Property Division

North Carolina law directs marital property to be split equitably between spouses, which means the property must be split fairly but not necessarily evenly. Marital property is all property acquired between the dates the spouses married and separated except property acquired by gift or inheritance. Here, North Carolina law gives a specific list of factors the court must consider, including the income and debts of each spouse, spousal support obligations from previous marriages, length of the marriage, age and health of the spouses, and custodial parent's need to stay in the family home to care for the children.


If spouses cannot agree on an alimony arrangement, the court will decide whether to award it and, if so, how much to award. To make these decisions, North Carolina courts consider several factors, such as how much money the recipient spouse needs to meet her reasonable needs, standard of living established during the marriage, duration of the marriage, and ages and conditions of the spouses. If a court awards alimony before dividing the couple’s property, either spouse can ask the court to reconsider its award once the property is divided.