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Ask Carolyn: Is Humiliation Grounds for Divorce?

Dear Carolyn,

My spouse has done something that is terribly embarrassing to me.  It also might be criminal.  Everyone in the community knows; our friends know, and I am mortified and humiliated.  I want a divorce.  Do I have grounds for getting a divorce?

– Humiliated


Dear Humiliated,

Assuming both spouses are sane, the only “ground” for a North Carolina divorce is 365 days of separation.  Separation means to live in separate residences and to hold yourself out as separated.  Only one party to the marriage has to formulate the intent to live separate and apart forever.  So, the embarrassing event is not a technical element to the North Carolina divorce.  After the required 365 days of living separate and apart, with the intent to remain separated, you may apply to the court for your divorce.

The embarrassing event is important to your emotional decision to seek a divorce.  I would take the time to make the choice, particularly since it seems you are talking about one bad act, rather than a pattern of conduct.  Give yourself some time to heal.  Perhaps obtaining some counseling with a psychologist and speak to your minister.

Since I do not know what “bad act” your spouse committed, I tried to think of an analogous situation.  Cecil the Lion comes to mind.  What should the wife of Dr. Walter Palmer do?  Dentist Palmer killed the beloved Cecil the Lion in July 2015 in Zimbabwe. Cecil was a tagged lion in a study being done by Oxford University, and he lived in a park.  Neighbors describe Ms. Palmer as a quiet person.  Should she leave him over this rather international debacle?  Certainly, there is public humiliation.  He has referred his patients to other dentists, so it seems he has lost his dental practice, presumably marital or community property.  Apparently, he was convicted earlier of poaching a black bear.  He has fishing license violations.  He has sexual harassment in his background.  He may be leaving her because he may be going to jail.  From an emotional point of view, Ms. Palmer has a difficult decision to make on whether to divorce or stand by Dr. Palmer.

You, like Mrs. Palmer, may find yourself in a grieving process, and the first thing that may happen to you is denial, disbelief that this is happening to me.  Then you may experience anger.  The phase after anger is complacency, an “I don’t care” response.  Finally, you will achieve normalcy.  Get a counselor to help you understand where you are in the healing process and how to factor in where you are in the healing process for good decision making.


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This blog is an excerpt from Ask Carolyn 2, available on kindle.  

Send your questions on family law and divorce matters to “Ask Carolyn…” at, or P.O. Box 9023, Greensboro, NC  27427.  Please do not put identifying information in your questions. 

Note that the answers in “Ask Carolyn” are intended to provide general legal information, and the answers are not specific legal advice for your situation.  The column also uses hypothetical questions.  A subtle fact in your unique case may determine the legal advice you need in your unique case.  Also, please note that you are not creating an attorney-client relationship with Carolyn J. Woodruff by writing or having your question answered by “Ask Carolyn.”