If your spouse wants a divorce, it’s essential to know your rights in North Carolina. You’ll need to consider financial, personal, parental, and spousal rights to protect yourself during this difficult time. Divorce is never easy, but knowing what to expect can help minimize the stress. Let’s look at some of the things you need to keep in mind if your spouse files for divorce in North Carolina.

If You Face Mistreatment

In North Carolina, you must live separately and apart for one year before filing for an absolute divorce. However, if your spouse abandons you, throws you out of the house, or similarly mistreats you, you may file for a “divorce from bed and board” until your absolute divorce goes through a year later. 

If you face mistreatment at the hands of your spouse, this legal separation called a “divorce from bed and board” may help you protect your rights for spousal or child financial support. However, a “divorce from bed and board” is not an absolute divorce. It is a legal term for a court-ordered separation period. 

For divorce from bed and board, you must show the court that your spouse is guilty of one of the following:

  • Abandoning you
  • Maliciously kicking you out of the house
  • Cruel treatment that endangers your life, including physical abuse
  • Making your life miserable, including emotional abuse.
  • Alcohol or drug abuse where it is intolerable to live with your spouse
  • Adultery

This type of legal separation lets the court see that your spouse is trampling on your rights so that your separation agreement reflects the court’s ruling. However, if you feel that your spouse acts abusively toward you or any children, explore your rights at North Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

The Crucial Piece of Protection: Your Separation Agreement

If your spouse wants a divorce but does not mistreat you, or you don’t want to file for a divorce from bed and board, you can work with your attorney to negotiate the terms of your separation agreement during your separation.

Your agreement during the separation period with your spouse often influences the ultimate divorce decree. Because your separation agreement carries so much weight, it’s crucial to work with an attorney who understands the legalities of divorce before your separation occurs, if possible.

Your separation agreement covers all of the issues in your marriage, including:

  • Child custody: Will you equally share care and living arrangements with your children? How much time with each parent will each child spend? 
  • Visitation: When and how will you see your children? Are there any rules or special needs that you would like to include in the paperwork? 
  • Legal separation: If you choose to write up a legal separation agreement, you can include child custody and visitation issues, financial matters, property issues, etc.
  • Child support: Will one parent pay child support to the other?
  • Alimony: Will one spouse pay alimony to the other?
  • Division of pensions, joint savings accounts, retirement plans: Work through the financial assets with your spouse before the divorce to not lose your financial ownership or beneficiary status. Make agreements in writing since a verbal agreement is not enough to ensure your retirement savings. Also, look at insurance policies and who the beneficiaries are on each account.
  • Debt: Any debts you or your spouse owe to a creditor must also go through negotiation. After the divorce, whoever’s name is on the account is on the hook. 
  • Equitable distribution of marital property: A large part of divorce is negotiating property ownership with your spouse. It is wise to work with someone impartial to help you come to a fair agreement on items such as cars, houses, boats, furniture, or other items in your home.

What Are My Parental Rights?

Your rights to make decisions about your child depend on the negotiations with your spouse during the separation period. Or, if your divorce goes to court, your rights depend on how the judge rules. 

Depending on your negotiations, you could face many different scenarios. Fighting for your parental rights from the beginning of any separation period, or even before, can make the most difference in protecting your parental relationship with your child.

Generally, if one parent receives sole legal custody, they will make the day-to-day decisions about the child’s care and any significant decisions about the child’s life. The other parent typically gets visitation with the children unless it is not in the child’s best interest.

However, in joint custody arrangements, parents handle day-to-day issues when needed and make big decisions together, such as the child’s education and medical care.

A family law attorney acts in your best legal interests and covers all your bases throughout the entire process of negotiation or any court appearances. With an attorney, you can rely on their expertise rather than feeling stressed and alone. Your best outcome as a parent depends on the negotiations during your separation. 

What are My Financial Rights in NC?

You have the right to equitable distribution of assets in NC. You and your spouse must negotiate a fair division of all assets, including:

  • Income
  • Pensions
  • Savings accounts
  • Businesses
  • Real estate
  • Cars and other vehicles

If you cannot agree on your own, your attorneys may negotiate by working with you both. Alternatively, the court will decide how to divide your assets. This decision is not always equal, so it’s vital to have an attorney fighting for what’s fair in your case.

You also have a right to receive alimony from your spouse if they make more money than you do. The payment amount and duration depend on factors such as the length of your marriage, your age, and each spouse’s earning potential.

How Your Family Law Attorney Makes a Difference

If you have questions about your specific case, don’t hesitate to reach out for a consultation with a family law attorney. They will be able to give you more information on your rights in NC and what you can expect during the divorce process.

The bottom line is that if your husband wants a divorce, it’s essential to know your rights and how to protect them. Negotiating an agreement with your spouse before filing any legal paperwork is always the best way to ensure a smoother process, but if negotiations break down, having an experienced attorney on your side can make all the difference. 

We Can Help

At Plekan Law, we work with separation and divorce cases across the state of North Carolina.  We have the experience and resources to help you protect your rights during this difficult time. Contact us today for a consultation.


  1. North Carolina Divorce | WomensLaw.org 
  2. Separation and Divorce | North Carolina Judicial Branch
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