Ways to Respond to Divorce Summons in North Carolina

By Beverly Bird

No matter where you live, when your spouse serves you with a divorce summons, it's possible to do nothing at all. However, in most states, you'll risk a lot if you don't respond. If your spouse has asked for full custody and all the property you own, you'll give up these things without a fight if you don't answer. This isn't always the case in North Carolina because divorce complaints generally don't include requests for property or custody.

Do Nothing

When you receive your spouse's divorce summons, it should include a complaint for divorce. Paragraph 9 of the complaint should state that your spouse is aware that after the court grants the divorce, she can't ask for her share of marital property or alimony. Divorce, custody and property division are separate issues in North Carolina and they require separate complaints. If you do nothing when you receive your spouse's summons and complaint, all that can happen is the court will grant her a divorce in about a month's time, and you're both barred from making property claims later -- although you can always go back to court for issues regarding your children. The court won't address property division unless your spouse takes an extra step and files a separate complaint for that, and it won't address custody unless she files a complaint to address parenting time with your children. If she doesn't do this, and if property issues aren't resolved before the date of the divorce, she can't go back to court to get an order dividing property later.

Request Equitable Distribution

If you want the court to issue an order regarding property, alimony or custody, you have another option when you receive your spouse's summons and complaint. Within 30 days, you can answer her complaint with your own complaint for equitable distribution, custody, or both. The court will still grant your spouse a divorce, but it will hear issues of property and support or custody separately, at different hearings and at a later time. Even if you don't elect this option, your spouse might do so by filing a complaint for equitable distribution herself, or a complaint for custody, before the final divorce hearing. If so, you should respond to this particular complaint, and possibly enlist the help of an attorney.

Object to Grounds

You may want to object to your spouse's summons and complaint because you want to stop the court from granting a divorce. Unfortunately, there's not much you can do to prevent your spouse from getting a divorce in North Carolina. It's a no-fault state and recognizes only two grounds. When you read your spouse's complaint, you'll realize that it either alleges you've lived in two separate residences for a year or you're incurably insane. If you want to argue either of these facts, you can file an answer with the court in response to your spouse's summons and complaint, denying her grounds. You have 30 days from the time you receive the summons to do this. The court will set a hearing and you'll have to prove either that you and your spouse did not live separately and apart for a year or you're of sound mind.

Negotiate a Settlement Agreement

If you and your spouse are on reasonably amicable terms, you can decide issues of property and support yourself, without getting the court involved. The fourth way you can respond to a divorce summons in North Carolina is to meet with your spouse and negotiate a marital settlement. This is a legally binding contract when you both sign it. You can file it with the court within 30 days of receiving the summons and the judge will incorporate it into your decree when granting your spouse a divorce. If you don't decide property settlement before the divorce is final, you can also enter into a settlement agreement later to resolve these issues, but you would have to file it with the civil court, not divorce court. This can be complicated, so you might want to consult a lawyer.