The first step for someone experiencing abuse at the hands of a spouse is to seek help. Organizations such as the North Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence provide information and assistance, and spouses who are in danger of harm should call 911.
Once they are away from the abusive situation, spouses can take these steps to free themselves legally from their abuser.
Domestic Violence Protection Order
A spouse can file for a Domestic Violence Protection Order at a domestic violence service provider agency or at the clerk of court’s office at the courthouse. The domestic violence agency can provide the information relevant to the county where the filer lives. After a judge grants a temporary order, a sheriff serves the other spouse and both spouses must attend a civil hearing. At that hearing, the judge decides whether to extend the DVPO for one year.
The couple must wait one year between separating and receiving their no-fault divorce. Spouses do not need a separation agreement to prove their separation. However, they can use it to establish property division, child custody and support, and other matters during the waiting period. The final divorce decree may not have the same orders if one spouse files a case to modify the agreement.
Divorce from Bed and Board
North Carolina offers an option for a court-ordered separation for those who have evidence of faults such as abuse: Divorce from Bed and Board. This is not an official divorce, and the couple must still wait one year. The couple may also still complete an official separation agreement.
If lawmakers pass Senate Bill 772, victims of domestic violence will be able to obtain a separate waiver that allows them to divorce without the year-long wait. Until then, taking legal steps to distance themselves from the abuser may provide relief and safety.