The Healthy Marriage Act – Will It Soon Be Difficult to Divorce in North Carolina?

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On March 28, 2013, North Carolina Republican Senator Austin Allran proposed Senate Bill 518, dubbed the Healthy Marriage Act, which would make it more difficult to obtain a divorce in North Carolina. Family law attorneys, like those at Miller Bowles Law, are paying close attention to this bill and how its enactment could affect their clients.

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"As family law attorneys, we are paying close attention to Senate Bill 518 this session." - Chris Miller, Partner

Presently, a divorce in North Carolina is a fairly simple and easy thing to achieve. North Carolina is a no-fault divorce State, a marriage can be ended without a showing of fault on the part of the other party. There are only two requirements that must be met in order to obtain a divorce in North Carolina: 1) one of the parties must have resided in North Carolina for six months before the filing of the divorce action; and 2) the parties must have lived separate and apart for one year. “Separate and apart” requires both a physical separation and an intention on the part of at least one of the parties to cease cohabitation with the other. After these requirements are met, the parties can file for a divorce and have the Judgment signed by the Judge. Once a Judgment of Divorce is entered, all rights arising out of the marriage end and the divorce is successfully completed. Either party may thereafter marry again without restriction.

The current one-year waiting period to file for divorce in North Carolina is longer than most other Southeastern states. For example, Georgia and Tennessee have a waiting period of only a few weeks. In Florida, a couple only has to file online to obtain a divorce, while Alabama has no waiting period whatsoever. Although North Carolina’s waiting period is already longer than most other surrounding states, State lawmakers are considering making the waiting period to file for divorce even longer and adding additional requirements to make a divorce more difficult to achieve.

North Carolina Republican Senator Austin Allran, representative of Alexander and Catawba counties, recently proposed Senate Bill 518, dubbed the “Healthy Marriage Act,” in an effort to completely revise and make more rigorous the requirements to get a divorce in North Carolina. Senator Allran was quoted by local news station WRAL as saying “[n]orth Carolina has a very high divorce rate – one of the worst – and it’s probably because we’ve been lax in our divorce laws. Made it too easy.”

As reported by WRAL, the U.S. Census Bureau ranks North Carolina 19th nationwide in highest divorce rates. The “Healthy Marriage Act” proposes to rewrite key provisions of N.C.G.S. §50-6 and §50-8. First, the Act would double the current waiting period to two years before a party can file for divorce. Second, at the beginning of the two-year waiting period, the Act requires the spouse seeking the divorce to give a written notice of intent to file for divorce to the other spouse. Third, the Act does away with the requirement that the spouses live separate and apart. During the two-year waiting period, the spouses may still live together. And finally, during the two-year waiting period, the Act requires both the husband and wife to each complete an unnamed number of courses on communication and conflict resolution. If there is a child involved, the spouses must also each complete a four-hour course on the impact of divorce on children. According to the Act, once these requirements have been satisfied, the couple may proceed with filing for a divorce and having a Judgment signed by a Judge.

Senator Allran’s goal of lowering the divorce rate in North Carolina could have unintended consequences that are likely to make an already stressful and contentious divorce action even more difficult. One can imagine the mental and physical toll that would ensue by living with a spouse for two years after they have issued a written intent to divorce. Additionally, a spouse may refuse to complete the mandatory communication and counseling courses to delay or prevent the other from obtaining a divorce. Many in North Carolina question whether those who truly desire a divorce will be able to adhere to the stringent requirements placed on them by the “Healthy Marriage Act.”

North Carolina family law attorneys, including those at Miller Bowles Law, are paying close attention to Senate Bill 518 or the “Healthy Marriage Act” as it makes its way through the House and Senate this session. Should the bill pass, major changes would occur for those wishing to obtain a divorce in North Carolina and the process for doing so. Regardless of state lawmakers’ decision surrounding the Healthy Marriage Act, speaking with a family law attorney should always been the first step for those beginning the process of divorce to ensure that the process in managed smoothly.

Miller Bowles Law is a full-service Charlotte Family Law firm located in the historic district of Dilworth in Charlotte, North Carolina. The attorneys at Miller Bowles Law have over 15 years of combined experience in representing clients in Charlotte family law cases and family law cases in surrounding counties including Union, Gaston, Iredell, and beyond. Our mission, simply stated, is to provide the highest-quality legal representation to our clients so that each feels supported and well-prepared to face the family law court system.

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Christopher Miller

Kate Bowles Miller
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