Many people have already written about the strain the COVID-19 coronavirus crisis is placing on marriages. However, there’s another aspect few people are talking about: people who already planned to file for divorce before the lockdown orders now have no idea what they should do.
So, can you still file for divorce during the coronavirus pandemic? The answer is yes, but the health crisis may affect the timeline of your case. In this blog article, we’ll talk about the current situation with family law courts here in North Carolina and explain what you should do if you want to proceed with a divorce filing.
The Status of North Carolina Family Law Courts During Coronavirus
As in many states, family law courts in North Carolina have suspended hearings except for emergency matters. As of today, hearings won’t resume until June 1. So, your divorce won’t be granted before that date at the earliest.
The coronavirus crisis is an ongoing situation, and no one really knows what will happen. We know there won’t be any family law hearings until at least June 1, but that date may get extended based on opinions from public health officials and the governor’s judgment. And when the courts do finally open, there will be a big backlog of cases that were already scheduled and put on hold.
Realistically, we can’t tell you what will happen to those cases already scheduled or give you an estimate for how long it will take for your divorce to finalize if you file now. The situation is up in the air, like most of our lives and careers right now.
If You Want a Divorce, You Can Still File
Right now, you can still file for divorce in North Carolina and get the divorce complaint served on the defendant (your spouse). This will at least start the process. Once you file, there is an initial 30-day waiting period for the defendant to file an answer. In an uncontested divorce, your spouse probably will not file an answer, but you still have to wait 30 days.
This waiting period is always in effect, not just during coronavirus — so if you’re confident you want to proceed with an absolute divorce, you may as well file now and take care of the 30-day waiting period. Once the courts open up again, you’ll be ready to move to the next filing.
What About Related Family Law Issues Like Property Division and Child Support?
As with absolute divorce, you can file claims for child custody, child support, and property division, but you can’t get a hearing right now unless there is an emergency issue. So, it’s impossible to say when your case will resolve if you have to go to court over these issues.
However, as with divorce, there are still good reasons to file your claims now for related issues. The legal process moves slowly in general; when we file a claim for a family law issue like equitable distribution (property division) or child support, we also have to gather financial documents and other information. This process can take time. Right now, we can still get this process started even though we can’t get any court hearings.
So, now is still a good time to begin your claims and get the initial process moving. Hopefully, by the time the initial process wraps up, we’ll know more about North Carolina’s family law hearing schedules.
What About Agreements or Settlements?
Even though the courts a closed for hearings except for emergency matters, you can still settle your case through a written separation agreement or a consent order. While the courts are closed for hearings, the Mecklenburg County Courthouse is still accepting court filings. If there are consent orders that need to be submitted for a judge’s signature, we can still take care of those as well.
RELATED ARTICLE: 4 Things You Should Know About No-Fault Divorce in North Carolina
What Are the Steps to File for Divorce?
The absolute divorce process in North Carolina involves several steps. Here’s what the process will look like if you decide to get started:
- You and your spouse need to separate and live apart for at least 12 consecutive (back-to-back) months before you can file. During the separation period, at least one spouse must intend to leave the marital relationship. You don’t need to file a form or do any other paperwork to start the separation period, but you do need to make a note of the date of separation.Unfortunately, it might be hard to separate during the coronavirus crisis, but right now, there is no exception to this rule. So, if you haven’t separated yet, you’ll need to do so and stay separated for one year before you can do anything else.
- Next, you need to file for divorce and wait up to 30 days for your spouse to respond. To file, you’ll need to file a summons and a complaint for absolute divorce with the Clerk of Court in your county. You also need to give your spouse the papers well, and you have to do it in an official process that’s called “serving.”To serve the papers, you’ll need to give your spouse the papers and have them sign a form saying they accept service. If your spouse refuses to sign, you’ll need to either have a sheriff serve the papers or have them delivered by certified mail, then wait 30 days while your spouse gets a chance to respond. If your spouse hasn’t responded by the end of the 30 days, you can move forward.
- Finally, you’ll get a hearing in court. This part of the process is on hold right now, but eventually the courts will reopen, and hearings will start getting scheduled. During your divorce hearing, the judge will hear testimony and arguments and then issue final divorce orders. Keep in mind that getting a divorce granted ends your right to file claims for spousal support and property distribution, so you’ll need to take care of these issues before your divorce is finalized.Also, keep in mind that at least one spouse needs to have been a North Carolina resident for at least six months before you can file for divorce in our state.
Myers Law Firm: Helping Clients With Family Law Cases in Charlotte and Mecklenburg County
At Myers Law Firm, we’re here and helping our clients every day during the coronavirus crisis. You can contact us by email or telephone, and we can meet with you and handle your initial case evaluation through a phone call or video conference.
If you want to move forward with a divorce filing or a claim for child custody, child support, or property division, we can help and there’s no need to wait — contact us today. To get in touch, call our offices at (888)376-2889 or fill out the quick contact form on our website.
The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.