Why do you have to wait 12 months to get divorced in North Carolina?

Because North Carolina was first established in 1729, it has a long history of lawmaking. Over time, some statutes intended to address a serious problem when they were created have become outdated and comical. This is true in every state. For example, in Rhode Island, it is against the law to test how fast a horse can gallop.

Then there are old laws that seem outdated but still affect our lives in profound ways. One that impacts most of our clients is the statute requiring you to live apart from your spouse for 12 months before you are allowed to file for divorce.

Besides North Carolina, just 16 states have divorce laws with required waiting periods. What is the purpose of making people wait so long to dissolve their marriages?

A 1931 law with no explanation

Actually, nobody knows for sure, not even members of the General Assembly. That section of the law dates from 1931, and it appears that notes and records related to it have been lost. In a recent article, the author of a book on divorce speculated that legislators were imposing their religious values on the public. By forcing couples to separate for a year before beginning divorce proceedings, lawmakers might have been trying to make the process too burdensome for most unhappily married people. Or they may have meant to give couples a cooling-off period in which to possibly reconcile.

Either way, if lawmakers in 1931 hoped to keep divorce rates low in North Carolina, they failed. The state’s current divorce rate is reportedly 3.1 per 1,000 people. This is higher than the national rate of 2.9 per 1,000 people, and equal to New Hampshire, which has no waiting period before filing.

Making it through the year

Still, there can be a financial and emotional toll of realizing your marriage is over, but having to wait a full year to end it. You may struggle to afford living on your own for that long without your share of the marital property, and there are child custody and support matters left in limbo. Consulting an experienced divorce lawyer can help you get through this period of your life as painlessly as possible.