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Does North Carolina Recognize Quickie Divorces?

By Amy A. Edwards

In North Carolina, parties seeking a divorce must show that at least one of the spouses has resided in the state for at least six months when either spouse files for the divorce. As of the date that a spouse files a claim for divorce, the parties must be separated for at least twelve months. When they separated, at least one of the spouses had to intend for the separation to be permanent.

Why Do People Want Quickie Divorces?

Besides the obvious desire to be legally single and/or remarry, there are several other reasons people get quickie divorces. There are those who want to get a divorce without the one-year separation, or those who haven’t lived in North Carolina for at least six months at the time the divorce is filed. Another incentive for quickie divorces is the payment of alimony. The deadline for filing an alimony claim in North Carolina is the entry of the divorce decree. If there isn’t an alimony claim already pending when the divorce decree is granted, it permanently expires and can’t be filed again. In other words, someone might try to slide the divorce past the other spouse with the hope that he or she won’t have time to file for alimony.

The U.S. Constitution

Our Constitution protects citizens with the right to due process of law. The courts only have the right to make rulings (i.e., legal authority) if they have jurisdiction. Without it, the court can’t issue valid court orders or decrees. A party to a lawsuit is entitled to legal notice and an opportunity to be heard and defend himself or herself. This usually occurs by service of the summons and complaint, when a sheriff hands a copy of the paperwork to the defendant, or the defendant signs to accept certified mail.

Divorces by Other States

When one U.S. state enters a decree, another state must generally accept it as valid. The Constitution requires one state to recognize it, giving it what is called full faith and credit. There are exceptions. North Carolina or any state can reject a decree of another state if that decree was fraudulent or the court did not have jurisdiction (i.e., the defendant wasn’t served with a copy of the paperwork). In other words, if it wasn’t valid in the state that issued it, then it isn’t valid here.

Divorces Granted by Foreign Countries

North Carolina can refuse to recognize a decree from another country if it was obtained by fraud or the court lacked jurisdiction. The Constitution doesn’t apply to other countries, so there’s no automatic recognition of their divorce decrees. Instead, a state court voluntarily chooses whether to recognize a divorce decree from another country. If it is recognized, North Carolina extends the courtesy of recognition by what is called comity, instead of giving it full faith and credit that would apply to decrees from other states.

The first question is whether the divorce is valid where it was entered. This includes the basics of a lawsuit like legitimate domicile, meaning that the person actually lives in a place and the court has jurisdiction. In one North Carolina case, a wife traveled to the Dominican Republic for five days for the sole purpose of getting the quickie divorce. Our court ruled that the divorce was not valid because she lived here, not in the Dominican Republic. Foreign divorces that aren’t recognized here are usually not recognized because the spouse lives here, and the foreign country lacks jurisdiction over U.S. residents.

The next question is whether the decree was entered after a fair trial in a legitimate court proceeding that gives both parties the opportunity to be heard or to object. A North Carolina court must also consider whether the foreign divorce decree violates our state’s public policies. We actually have a public policy against “the hasty dissolution of marriages.” If a court believes the divorce was a quickie divorce, it can refuse to recognize it.

Mayer v. Mayer, 66 N.C. App. 522 (1984).

Amy A. Edwards is a family law attorney in Greenville, NC, certified by the NC State Bar Board of Legal Specialization as a Family Law Specialist, and is licensed only in NC. Laws change. This article is current as of 2019. ©

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