North Carolina instituted a number of court cost increases that became effective in the months of July and August, 2011. Increases affect both civil and criminal cases, and impact even the simplest of matters. Here we discuss the impact on simple (or absolute) divorce.
Before July of this year, the filing fee for divorce was $175 (or $185 if a name change was involved), which included district court costs of $100 and a $75 absolute divorce fee. If the plaintiff wished to have papers served by the sheriff, it would cost another $15. These amounts would all be paid at the time the complaint was filed. That was it. Even as the case proceeded, the absolute divorce would generally cost $200 or less in court costs.
Over recent months, civil court costs have increased in both amount and type, and the cost of a simple divorce has become slightly more complicated.
First, base civil district court costs have increased by 50% and are now $150. The fee for filing for absolute divorce remains at $75 and the fee for resumption of a former name remains at $10, for a total of $225-$235. The cost of each item of civil process served by the sheriff has doubled to $30, so simply filing for absolute divorce can now cost $265.
In addition, new legislation under N.C.G.S 7A-305(f) provides for a motion fee of $20, which applies to motions contained in any filings. Thus, any subsequent pleading that contains a motion will cost another $20. In many instances of absolute divorce, the plaintiff's attorney can save her client the hassle of ever having to appear in court by using summary judgment divorce. Basically, if the defendant does not file an answer within 30 days (the only defense to divorce based on one year's separation is that the couple has not in fact been separated for one year), the plaintiff and/or his attorney files a motion for summary judgment and the divorce can be granted without either party ever appearing in court. This convenience will now cost the plaintiff $20. Suddenly, a simple divorce can cost $285, which is 42.5% more than it cost earlier this year.
Attorneys and their clients may be looking for ways to reduce the impact of the cost increases. First, the plaintiff or his attorney can serve the defendant by certified mail, return receipt requested, which today cost me $5.59. In addition, the plaintiff can opt to appear in court and avoid the $20 motion fee for the motion for summary judgment by testifying. These two changes alone will save your client around $45, and if the client opts out of a name change, nearly $55 in savings can be achieved. In my opinion, it generally makes sense to forego the service by sheriff, but the time and effort saved by the use of a motion for summary judgment is likely worth the $20 spent. That said, the best way to proceed should be determined by the client and his attorney based on the specific situation.
Absolute divorce can be a great option for individuals without children and who have minimal assets. It can also be beneficial for separated couples who remain amicable and/or who have separation agreements in place. In an absolute or simple divorce, the only matter before the court is the actual divorce. Matters of custody, child support, alimony, and equitable distribution are generally not involved and are handled separately.
For more information regarding North Carolina absolute divorce, contact simple divorce attorney Kelly B. Myers. Kelly Myers handles absolute divorce as well as separation agreements in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina.