A spouse who decides to file for divorce in North Carolina must file a Complaint for Divorce, a Domestic Cover Sheet and a Civil Summons. The complaint will contain the divorcing spouse's allegations, and the summons will request the other spouse's presence. The non-filing spouse can choose to respond to the filings to protect her rights through the divorce process, but there is no requirement under North Carolina law to respond to the summons at all.
North Carolina requires a spouse to file a answer to the divorce complaint within 30 days after receipt of service. Typically a divorce petition will include requests for a distribution of marital property and also contain child custody, visitation and support requests if there are children from the marriage. If an answer is not filed within 30 days, the matter will then be set for a hearing where the judge can issue a final decree of divorce.
Preservation of Rights
By filing a response, the respondent preserves her rights to equitable distribution of marital property. Judges do not decide divorces based wholly on the pleadings. The pleadings serve to provide notice to the court of the issues. By responding to the allegations in the complaint, the respondent preserves his rights, as the court will conduct a hearing to evaluate the requests of each spouse.
Drafting a Response
A responding spouse can draft an answer by obtaining a blank copy of the form from the clerk's office where the divorce was filed. If the divorce is a fault-based divorce (which claims a specific allegation of misconduct) the respondent can contest the claim in her answer. The respondent can also present her version of division of the marital assets, or at least demand that the distribution be equitable if the petitioner's claim demands a majority of the marital estate. The respondent can also respond to any child custody, support and visitation schedules requested by the petitioner.
A spouse is not required to respond, and can choose not to respond where the spouses are seeking a standard uncontested divorce under Section 50-6 of the North Carolina Code. An uncontested divorce can be filed after a one-year period of separation between the spouses. Uncontested divorces do not consider any fault based arguments, and do not provide for a division of property or award of alimony. If there are children from the union, the custody arrangement will be included, but support and visitation must be separately addressed.
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