You’ve been separated for a year. No assets, no kids, not even a dog to fight about. You just want a quick and simple divorce so you can move on with your life. You may even be asking yourself if you need an attorney at all. If this sounds like you, you’re in the right place.
The good news is, based on your specific circumstances, you may not require an attorney. Most Courthouses in North Carolina and South Carolina have self-help packets for parties seeking uncontested absolute divorces. Legal Aid of North Carolina also provides a divorce packet for spouses seeking to divorce in North Carolina without the assistance of a lawyer.
While we will often suggest self-help options, we urge anyone considering a divorce to consult with an experienced family law attorney first to ensure that a simple uncontested divorce is the right decision. Don’t worry, the consultation is not to sell you on an attorney you don’t need, but to provide you with all the information so you can make the right choice for you.
Thinking about meeting with an attorney? Here’s how to ensure you get the most bang for your buck.
The insights and views presented in “Welcome to Splitsville” are for general information purposes only and should not be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation. Nor does tuning in to this podcast constitute an attorney-client relationship of any kind. If you’re ready for compassionate and reliable legal guidance on your journey through divorce, contact Leigh Sellers and her team at http://www.TouchstoneFamilyLaw.com
Intro: [00:01] Hello there. Going through a divorce? Considering one? Sorry to hear that, but here you are. Welcome to Splitsville. You’ll find Splitsville to be a pretty unique place, a new world really with its own rules, its own expectations and, in many ways, its own language. Don’t worry, you have a knowledgeable guide along the way, a family law attorney with three decades of experience under her belt.
Intro: [00:28] Now, here she is, your host and guide, Leigh Sellers.
Leigh Sellers: [00:37] Hi everyone, and thanks for tuning in to another episode of Welcome to Splitsville. I’m your host and guide Leigh Sellers founder of Touchstone Family Law. In this episode, I’ll be answering another question that many newcomers to Splitsville have, how can I have a simple divorce? Let’s dive in.
Leigh Sellers: [01:03] A lot of people approach a divorce and separation without a lot of emotion or drama, which is great. They come to us, or call us, and their expectation is that this can be handled relatively simply. People know it’s a no-fault state, they’ve either already lived apart for a year, or almost a year, and they call, and they’re like, “Well, we don’t have anything to fight about, so this just needs to happen quickly, it’s no big deal. Not even sure I need an attorney.”
Leigh Sellers: [01:35] That can often be the case. There is a self-help center in Mecklenburg County specifically that has forms for where you can go, and on your own complete your uncontested, absolute divorce paperwork. They’re not open all day every day, but they’re there, and they have a pretty good packet, which I think, is self-explanatory. That may be because I have a law degree it looks self-explanatory to me, but many people use it. That may be all you need. I certainly have no problem suggesting it to people who contact me. I’ll often tell them to go take a look at it after we’ve spoken to make sure that actually a simple divorce is appropriate for them.
Leigh Sellers: [02:15] In South Carolina most of the clerk’s offices also have a [pro-se [00:02:19] packet which allows people to try to accomplish a divorce on their own, if there are no other issues other than making them single again, making them unmarried. If you truly are simply trying to change your marital status there are, at most courthouses in both North and South Carolina, ways that you can do that.
Leigh Sellers: [02:40] There are a few online providers who will promise a quick solution to an uncontested divorce as well, but in reality a lot of people when they’re calling, and saying, “Hey, it’s a simple divorce, and we want it to move quickly they really are just hoping it’s going to be simple and quick. They don’t think that they have anything to fight about it about, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the other person’s going to cooperate, and make things go smoothly for you.
Leigh Sellers: [03:06] Let’s talk about what the process would be in order to get a divorce. Every state has its own residence requirements, you have to have been a resident of the state where you’re seeking to file for a certain amount of time. Every state has laws that require you to make sure that there’s a reasonable expectation that they should be able to reach out, and divorce the other person, the defendant, the person who you’re suing for divorce. There’s a lot of rules regarding whether or not this court has the power to grant a divorce against them.
Leigh Sellers: [03:38] Assuming that the state laws can all be met, and that it is appropriate for the state enter in to handle your divorce action, and that’s the place to proceed there’s also rules about preparing the paperwork, serving the other side. Most rules of civil procedures in all 50 states allow the persons served with a lawsuit a certain amount of time, usually 30 days, to respond before they will take any action on your complaint. Then, after that time has expired they might be able to set a hearing, or set whatever procedure in place is allowed to go ahead and hear your evidence that you’re entitled to a divorce, and grant your divorce.
Leigh Sellers: [04:20] I think, in North Carolina you should always expect it’s going to take, at a minimum, 45 to 60 days, if not longer, to get your divorce granted after you applied for it. It’s going to take more than 90 days in South Carolina for an uncontested divorce, they simply won’t even put it on the calendar until 90 days has past.
Leigh Sellers: [04:38] You need to go this going into it that it’s not something you can get at an ATM machine, there’s not an instant on button, and there are things that are outside of your control in terms of those timelines. Even an uncontested divorce where you’re just changing your marital status, short marriage, no children, no property is going to take you a good 90 plus days. I always tell everybody please do not plan your wedding before you have your divorce decree in your hands. Yes, that happens, and it’s just not a good idea. It’s very disappointing to be headed on your destination wedding with lots of guests and actually not come back from it married. It is important that you’re divorced from your first spouse before you take a second one. All kinds of problems with that, we won’t waste time talking about today.
Leigh Sellers: [05:29] If you’re trying to streamline the rest of the process and you do have children, or you do have property issues that can only be accomplished quickly to resolve those issues if the other side is on the same page as you. If your spouse agrees on how you’re going to divide your property, or agrees as to how you’re going to share custody of your child or children then most people can, at least in North and South Carolina; the only two places where I have any authority to speak, they’re going to be able to do an agreement. Once an agreement is drafted by an attorney the process is different in North and South Carolina, but once you have all those documents done you’re pretty much good to go. You simply want to get those completed before your divorce judgment is granted.
Leigh Sellers: [06:19] North Carolina does allow separation agreements, and those are contracts between spouses, and they are allowed, they are legally enforceable, and if they’re appropriate in your situation that can resolve your case other than the divorce outside of the court system. However, in South Carolina the rules are that the court needs to approve any agreement, so even if you come to a consensual arrangement with your spouse, and you’ve put it in paper, and you’ve all signed it, and you’ve initialed each page the rules in South Carolina are going to require that you appear before a judge, and have a judge review the agreement, approves it, and incorporate it into an order of the court. You’re at least going to have to take the time to appear in court, which means you’re going to be subject to whatever timelines the court process had. As in how many do they have, and how much do they time do they have on their calendar, and when can they possibly fit you in?
Leigh Sellers: [07:12] If you spend some time with your spouse going through what your initial thoughts are together, if you can do that you can make things go very smoothly. There are some things that will guarantee that your divorce doesn’t go smoothly. One is assuming that you can dictate all of the terms of your separation and divorce, if you believe that you could simply tell your spouse how it’s going to be you will find a lot of resistance that’s highly unusual. If you come in and you instruct us to draft consensual documents, and you’ve never actually spoken to your spouse about whether or not they consent to these things we can draft the documents for you, but we cannot make the other side sign them.
Leigh Sellers: [08:02] One of the most common problem we run into here is people who don’t want to go to court, and they don’t want to pay an attorney a litigation fee. They want it done consensually, and so they hire us to do an agreement, and the basically insist that we do an agreement, and they tell us what needs to be in it. Then, of course, it is completed, and sent to their spouse, and the spouse simply ignores it. They don’t sign it, they don’t contact us, and tell us what changes they want. They are just like, “I don’t care,” and nothing happens. Then, people come back in, and they’re really upset. “You didn’t get me my agreement.” Well, we can’t get an agreement for you. We can draft one for you, and we can talk you through how to have it properly executed to make it legally binding, but again if you’ve not done some groundwork to make sure that you understand the terms of the agreement, or what the other spouse is willing to be legally bound to there’s not anything that we can do for you about that.
Leigh Sellers: [09:07] Then, the only thing that you can do is simply file an action, and let a judge make that decision. That is never going to be quick, that is never going to be easy, that is never going to be cheap. What I would recommend if you want things to go smoothly, and you want things to go quickly is that you need to actually see an attorney first, and understand what issues you do need to reach an agreement on, so that when you down with your spouse you actually have 10 put of oh, these are things that I’m going to need to make sure that we are on the same page about. If you do that, and you sit down with your spouse, and you find that for more issues or not you’re on the same page, or the two of you are willing to make compromises that put you on the same page then you can go, and an attorney will move in whatever speed that they have the ability to do to get it completed for you.
Leigh Sellers: [10:01] I find that if you want it to move smoothly be prepared. Also, anticipate what you think your spouse’s most important issues are, so that you can go ahead and make sure that when you’re communicating, or completing some sort of outline that you’ve gone ahead and placed those important considerations in your notes. So that from the beginning the spouse can see, “Oh, well look at that, they knew that was important to me, and they’d already conceded that, they’d already recognized that, they had already given me some deference in assuming that I was going to want that, that I was going to want the car. Or that I was going to want to keep the dining room suite.” Sometimes going ahead and setting forth what you are willing to give not just what you want will also make the process move a lot smoother.
Leigh Sellers: [10:55] Being prepared is the key to making it go quickly, the more prepared you are before you see an attorney to try to get the legal work done the better. If you’ve gone through all of your assets, and you know exactly what you own, and what is to be done with them, your spouse’s assets, if you’ve gone through everything about your children’s lives and schedules, and you’ve gone through everything about your finances, who’s going to pay what, how many joint credit cards do we have, what are we going to do about the cars? The more thought you’ve put into every element the better it’s going to be.
Leigh Sellers: [11:33] I think the thing to remember is that most people take a fair amount of time to plan their weddings, or plan their marriage, most people spend time in a relationship getting to know each other, most people have an engagement period, most people put a great deal of effort into planning a wedding, and celebrating the upcoming nuptials. It generally takes at least a year or more between engagement and a planned wedding. I think to expect that you can undo a marriage in less time than it took you to actually plan the marriage is unrealistic. The longer you are married the longer it’s going to take to divorce you. The more issues and property you have the longer it’s going to take to divorce you. Just keep that in mind that it’s just not going to be faster to get you out of it than it was to get you into it. You should always know that anything done well takes time. Speed is not necessarily the best thing in legal processes. I know it’s desirable because people when they’ve made a decision to end their marriage want to get it behind them as quickly as possible.
Leigh Sellers: [12:49] I had someone that I spoke to very recently who had only been separated about four days, and they must’ve said four or five times in the conversation, “I just want this to be over with. I just want this to be over with.” That’s a completely understandable sentiment, especially given the fact that in my observation people stay in marriages, and fight through their difficulties for a considerable amount of time before they ever walk into an attorney’s office. When they come to my office it’s not the beginning, they’ve been struggling with marital difficulties for quite a while, so it’s completely understandable that they’re ready for the pain to end, and they’re ready for their new life to begin. I wish that we could wave a magic wand, but we can’t, and it’s not even advisable.
Leigh Sellers: [13:38] People who rush through this process simply to get it done are often back in my office within 3 to 6 months because what they agreed to is not working, and had they just taken a little more time they would’ve understood themselves, and what they needed going forward a lot better, and they would’ve made much better decisions that would’ve supported their lives in a much greater fashion. We are almost never going to encourage you to do it quickly.
Leigh Sellers: [14:09] Let me just make it clear that that’s not so we can make more money. We really are not horrible moneygrubbing people. You don’t enter into a practice to help people going through the most painful part of their life because you’re just in it for the money. There’s a lot of things that I could do to make money that would be a lot simpler than helping people navigate divorce and separation, because it is hard work. It’s gratifying work, but it’s hard work. We want to help people get through this, and everybody does need to do it at a different pace, and everybody does have different needs, but our job is to look at your situation, and figure out how you’re best going to get through. If speed is important, believe me, we will be pushing speed, and we will have a reason why we think speed is necessary.
Leigh Sellers: [14:56] If you have an attorney that’s telling you to slow down take some time and listen, because I guarantee you it’s not their self interest, they’ll have other people that’ll call that’ll need that time that they free up when they’re not working on your case, so if they’re telling you to slow down listen to them. They have a reason, and they understand that quick and easy might not be best for you.
Leigh Sellers: [15:18] There you have it, another neighborhood of Splitsville explored. There’s still so much to learn here, so I hope you’ll tune into the next episode. While Splitsville is not a fun place to be, thankfully, it is full of helpful people, valuable resources, and sound advice if you know where to look. See you next time.
Outro: [15:42] The insights and views presented in Welcome to Splitsville are for general information purposes only, and should not be taken as legal advice for any individual case, or situation, nor does tuning into this podcast constitute an attorney-client relationship of any kind. If you’re ready for compassionate and reliable legal guidance on your journey contact Leigh Sellers, and her team at touchstonefamilylaw.com.