Serving Divorce Papers: What You Need to Know

Board Certified Family Law Specialist Matt Arnold answers the question: “How much does it cost to get divorced, and how does the billing process work?”

Serving Divorce Papers: What You Need to Know

Divorce is a legal procedure that requires you to follow the proper process. While you are not required to hire a divorce attorney, a lawyer can be helpful in guiding your divorce and keeping it on track. Regardless of how you go about handling your divorce, you will need to make sure that you follow the law. To initiate the process, one party will file the paperwork. This person is called the petitioner, while the other person is referred to as the respondent throughout the proceedings. Filing paperwork is the first step that you will take toward ending your marriage in North Carolina.


Who Serves Divorce Papers?

Once you file the proper request for a divorce in North Carolina, the next thing that happens is your spouse must be served with papers. The court typically requires that the respondent receive papers in person. Generally, the sheriff serves divorce papers to the respondent. In some cases, divorce papers may be delivered via certified mail. The petitioner must provide the court with your spouse’s home address or address where they will be located. It is critical that your spouse is served with papers because the divorce process will not move forward until this step is accomplished.



What if I Cannot Find My Spouse?

North Carolina has a mandatory one-year separation time in place for those seeking no-fault absolute divorces. This means that you may not have seen or spoken to your spouse in quite some time, especially if you do not share children. Many people wonder what to do if they do not know where to locate their spouse in order to serve divorce papers. In general, you will need to try to locate your spouse in order to ensure a smooth and fast process. You can try to find relatives who provide the new address or try to find your spouse using online resources. In some cases, a private investigator might be useful in locating your estranged partner.


Service by Publication

If you have exhausted all methods of locating your spouse and are unable to do so, the judge may allow service by publication. You can publish the information in a newspaper following the law. North Carolina General Statute 1-597 provides details for how to complete service by publication. You must publish a notice in a newspaper with wide circulation in the area where the respondent is probably living. The notice must provide specific information pertaining to the legal action, and you must publish it for three consecutive weeks. Once complete, the spouse has 40 days to respond. You will need to provide an affidavit providing proof that you published the notice as per the law.


What if My Spouse Does Not Respond? 

After the legal service of divorce papers, your spouse has a specific period of time in which to respond. The period of time for response when served in person or by certified mail is 30 days from receipt. If the spouse fails to respond during that time, they lose their right to disagree with the divorce terms. Therefore, the divorce becomes uncontested. The respondent is no longer included in the issues and matters that are decided by the court. However, if the spouse does not respond, it does not mean they are not still entitled to their share. North Carolina is an equitable distribution state, and the judge will handle the settlement in a way that is fair to both parties.


The decision to divorce can be a difficult one. You don’t need to go it alone. Seek legal guidance from our compassionate legal team at Arnold & Smith, PLLC, at (704) 370-2828 to schedule a confidential consultation today.






The family law practice group at Arnold & Smith, PLLC includes two Board-Certified Family Law specialists and one Child Welfare Law specialist, as well as several attorneys with many years of family law experience that are committed to providing a powerful voice to individuals facing the often-tumultuous issues in this area of law. The range of issues our family law clients may be facing include pre- and post-nuptial agreements; separation agreements; post-separation support; child support (both temporary and permanent); absolute divorce; divorce from bed and board; military divorce; equitable distribution of assets; child custody (both temporary and permanent); retirement benefits and divorce; alimony and spousal support; adoption; and emancipation. Because this area of the law is usually emotionally charged and complicated, the family law attorneys at Arnold & Smith, PLLC act with the utmost dedication to ensure that each client understands his or her options, and then act to achieve the best result possible for that client’s particular situation.



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