Same-Sex Divorce in North Carolina—Explained

  1. Separation & Divorce
  2. Same-Sex Divorce in North Carolina—Explained
A house surrounded by coins and the gavel determining a same-sex divorce. | New Direction Family Law

In North Carolina, it’s been a decade since same-sex marriage was legally recognized. Since then, members of the LGBTQ+ community have flourished in happy marriages. But just as with opposite-sex couples, some have also ended in divorce.

In North Carolina, same-sex divorce follows the same legal process as opposite-sex divorce. However, there are specific considerations unique to same-sex couples, such as potential challenges in property division and child custody arrangements. It’s important for couples to seek the guidance of legal representation for a smoother process and the protection of both parties involved. 


Whether you’re considering divorce or simply seeking information, understanding your rights is crucial. Get the essential information you need with this guide to same-sex divorce in NC.

History of Same-Sex Marriage in North Carolina

In October 2014, North Carolina witnessed a significant turning point in its path towards marriage equality. During this time, a federal judge made a historic decision to invalidate the state’s ban on same-sex marriage. This ruling was a pivotal moment for LGBTQ+ rights within North Carolina’s legal jurisdiction.

Although this ruling preceded the landmark Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, which occurred in June 2015, it laid the groundwork for the broader nationwide recognition of same-sex marriage. While the 2014 ruling was specific to North Carolina, Obergefell v. Hodges extended marriage equality to the entire United States.

As a result of the 2014 ruling, same-sex couples in North Carolina gained access to coveted legal benefits and protections associated with marriage. These included inheritance rights, higher standard tax deductions, medical decision-making authority, spousal benefits, and more.

It was then Obergefell v. Hodges that solidified these rights on a national level, ensuring equal treatment for all couples regardless of their sexual orientation.

Filing for Divorce in North Carolina

Filing for divorce in North Carolina, including for same-sex couples, involves several key steps and considerations. North Carolina is a “no-fault” divorce state, allowing couples to seek dissolution without assigning blame or citing marital misconduct as grounds for divorce.

Before filing, regardless of sexual orientation, couples must adhere to separation requirements. This typically entails living apart for a specified period (at least one year and a day) prior to initiating divorce proceedings.

Additionally, at least one spouse must have resided in North Carolina for six months to satisfy residency requirements. Any individual meeting the residency criteria can file for divorce, whether they are in a same-sex or opposite-sex marriage.

To initiate the process, the filing spouse (the “plaintiff”) must complete and submit requisite paperwork to the county courthouse where they reside. This paperwork usually includes a complaint for divorce and related forms tailored to same-sex couples.

After filing, the other spouse (the “defendant”) is then served with copies of the documents. The defendant then has the opportunity to respond before the divorce process proceeds further.

Division of Property

In North Carolina, same-sex couples, like opposite-sex couples, adhere to equitable distribution principles during divorce proceedings. This means that marital property, acquired during the marriage, is divided fairly but not necessarily equally. Factors considered by the court include each spouse’s:

  • Financial situation
  • Contributions to the marriage
  • Future earning potential

Marital property encompasses assets and debts acquired during the marriage, while separate property includes assets owned before marriage or obtained through inheritance or gift. The court aims to ensure a fair distribution of assets, considering these factors, to achieve equitable outcomes for both parties involved in the divorce.

Alimony and Spousal Support

Same-same couples, as with opposite-sex couples, may encounter various types of alimony, including temporary and permanent arrangements. Temporary alimony,  called Post Separation Support, provides financial support during divorce proceedings, while permanent alimony offers ongoing support post-divorce.

Factors influencing alimony decisions include the spouses’ income and earning capacities and the duration of the marriage. The court considers the length of the marriage as a significant factor, recognizing that longer marriages may warrant greater financial support to ensure equitable outcomes for both parties involved.

Child Custody and Support

Additionally, same-sex couples navigate child custody and support matters much like opposite-sex couples. The legal framework prioritizes the best interests of the child when determining custody arrangements. This includes considering factors like the child’s emotional and physical well-being.

Custody can involve both physical (where the child resides) and legal (decision-making authority) aspects. Child support is determined through guidelines considering the parents’ income and expenses, ensuring the child’s needs are met.

Income and expenses play a crucial role in calculating child support payments, ensuring fairness and adequacy in supporting the child’s upbringing.

Special Considerations for Same-Sex Couples

Here in North Carolina, same-sex couples face unique considerations in legal matters. These include parental rights and recognition of out-of-state marriages and divorces.

Legal parentage can be established through adoption or biological connections, providing same-sex couples with equal rights and responsibilities concerning their children. However, challenges may arise regarding the recognition of out-of-state marriages and divorces, as other states’ laws can impact the legal process.

It’s essential for same-sex couples to understand their rights and seek legal guidance from an experienced attorney to navigate these situations effectively. A trusted divorce attorney will help ensure the protection and recognition of their relationships and families.

The Importance of Legal Representation

Working with a knowledgeable lawyer is crucial when navigating legal matters like divorce and family law, especially for same-sex couples. With over 80 years of combined experience serving Wake, Durham, Johnston, and surrounding counties, our team is well-equipped to handle the potential complexities of LGBTQ+ family law.

For separation and divorce, child custody and support, as well as property division and spousal support, we provide comprehensive guidance and representation tailored to the unique needs of same-sex couples and families. Our family law attorneys understand the nuances of LGBTQ+ relationships and can offer invaluable guidance to ensure your rights are protected.

With our experience and dedication, we strive to achieve the best possible outcomes for our LGBTQ+ clients, providing support every step of the way as they navigate the legal process. Whether you’re seeking to dissolve a marriage or establish parental rights, New Direction Family Law is here to advocate for you and your family.

Take the first step towards a brighter future for you and your family by scheduling a consultation with us today.

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