​​Divorce Checklist

Whether you’ve just begun to consider separation and divorce or you’ve already spoken with your spouse and agreed that it’s time to move on, you are likely wondering where the process begins. Gathering the documents and filing the paperwork you need can seem like an overwhelming task when emotions are already running high.

If you’re separating from a spouse in North Carolina, a divorce checklist can help you prepare for the process.

Requirements for Divorce in North Carolina

We help our clients navigate North Carolina’s divorce requirements to make the process as efficient and straightforward as possible. The state’s requirements are:

  • One year of separation
  • One spouse must reside in the state for a period of six months before filing for divorce
  • The intention of at least one spouse to remain living separate and apart at the time of separation

If you meet the three requirements above, you can file a divorce complaint and send it to your spouse. Your spouse can contest the divorce, but only on the grounds that at least one of three requirements has not been met. A contested divorce requires a hearing with testimony and evidence in front of a Judge.

Once the divorce papers are served, there’s a 30-day waiting period before a divorce hearing can be requested. In cases where a divorce isn’t contested, the entire divorce process, not including the separation period, can be finalized in 60-120 days under most circumstances. If you have additional claims besides just the divorce itself, those claims can take months, even years, to be resolved if they are contested.

What Documents Should I Gather to Prepare for Separation and Divorce?

Your lawyer may request multiple documents to help you work through your separation and divorce as quickly as possible. There are many documents you may need to have available, and these include:

  • Prenuptial or postnuptial agreements
  • Estate planning documents (wills, powers of attorney, etc.)
  • Marriage license
  • Life insurance policies
  • Bank account statements
  • Credit card statements
  • Investment account documents
  • Retirement account documents
  • Loan information
  • Auto loans
  • Mortgage documents
  • Tax returns
  • Deeds to any property that you own
  • Automobile titles
  • Your spouse’s recent pay stubs

You’ll want to gather documentation on all of your single and joint accounts. It’s crucial that you gather as many of these documents as you possibly can to ensure that all assets and income have been disclosed so that you and your lawyer have a solid overview of your estate and your cash flow.

North Carolina is a 50/50 state, which means that the marital property should be divided equitably and in a way that is fair to both spouses. Gathering the proper documents will help you evaluate your options for the division of assets, debts, and income. Hiding assets is never recommended and can lead to the courts looking at you unfavorably. If you believe your spouse is hiding assets, speak to a divorce lawyer immediately.

If you and your spouse own a business together, you’ll need to obtain additional documents. A few of the documents that you’ll need as a business owner are:

  • Financial statements for the past three years
  • Business tax returns for the past three years
  • General ledgers and check stubs for the past three years
  • Bank account statements
  • Credit card statements
  • Statements of current debts, including terms of payment and interest rates
  • Operating agreements
  • Buy-sell agreements

Since you own a business together, the court will want to have a clear picture of your income and expenses from the business. It’s important to note that if you own a business with someone other than your spouse, you will still need to gather the same documents.

Divorce Checklist: Steps to Take Right Away

Deciding to get a divorce is one of the biggest decisions you’ll make in your life. Here’s a brief checklist to work through to make the rest of the process as fluid as possible:

  1. Get a counselor or therapist
  2. Make an appointment with your financial planner
  3. Find a divorce attorney
  4. Collect all of your marriage documents
  5. Collect all other documents listed in the previous section
  6. Identify assets that are owned jointly and individually
  7. If you have any premarital assets, find documentation of when you acquired them
  8. If you inherited assets, find the estate documents showing the paper trail for your inheritance
  9. Itemize all of your personal property
  10. Begin separating your life with new bank accounts
  11. Consider freezing any joint lines of credit or open-end mortgages as well as credit cards (or removing authorized users) if you are worried about debt being increased by your spouse
  12. Run your credit report
  13. Make digital copies (and back up those copies) of all the paperwork listed here
  14. Think about changing your online banking passwords if you are concerned about money disappearing

If you and your spouse are on good terms still, you can begin discussing how you would like to divide assets. Working with a divorce lawyer is recommended, and if you choose to do mediation, the process is easier when there are no “surprises.”

When you go through a divorce, even if you still care about each other deeply, it can be a stressful and emotionally charged situation. Therefore, it’s often in your best interest to work with a lawyer, especially one who will consider mediation or other alternative dispute resolutions before going to Court.

Finding the Best Cary Divorce Lawyer for You

Trusting someone to help you prepare for a divorce and walk you through all of the steps involved requires putting your trust in someone else. Working with the right Cary divorce lawyer will make your divorce easier for you.

The right lawyer will:

  • Bring years of experience to the divorce process
  • Try to work through settlement conferences or mediation to come to an amicable agreement
  • Help with alimony, custody arrangements, and child support if these are needed
  • Give you suggestions on dividing assets and debts

Mediating and helping you have an amicable divorce will save you money and time. Going to Court is typically not in your best interest unless it is the only reasonable option. It is in your best interest to find a lawyer who can differentiate between when Court is and isn’t the best option for you and your family.

If you want a divorce lawyer who believes in mediation and moving the process forward as quickly as possible, Triangle Smart Divorce can help. Call us today to speak to a Cary divorce lawyer.


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Our practice is entirely dedicated to helping couples move forward with confidence when dealing with divorce. You’re not alone.

Learning center

Want to know how to prepare for divorce? Use our free resources to guide you. Our mission is to get you to where you want to be — without years of legal fees, court battles and emotional damage.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does North Carolina Require Separation Before Divorce?

Yes. North Carolina law requires that a couple be separated for at least one year before filing for divorce. However, during separation, some debts and property acquired are treated differently than those that were acquired during the marriage.

What Is the First Thing to Do When Deciding to Get Divorced?

We suggest making appointments with a counselor, financial planner, and divorce lawyer. If you decide to proceed with separation and divorce, then you should begin working through the divorce checklist in the section above straight away to reduce the stress of the divorce process.

What Should You Not Do During a Divorce?

Divorce is complex, and the longer you’re married, the more complicated the process may be. You’ll want to do a few things to move your divorce along as smoothly as possible:

  • Don’t let anger or spite dictate your actions
  • Don’t take your anger out on your kids, ignore them, or try to turn them against the other spouse
  • Never try to hide money or assets
  • Don’t expect everything to go to you—you will likely have to come to a compromise with your spouse on many factors
  • Don’t sell or deplete marital assets without the consent of your spouse

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