(1) Correct, you must be separated for one year before you can get divorced. You cannot file for the absolute divorce until the day after the one-year mark of separation at the earliest. Where you live when you separate is irrelevant for absolute divorce purposes.
(2) When you file for absolute divorce (which happens no earlier than the day after the one-year mark of separation), you must be a resident of the State of North Carolina for the prior six months.
(3) You can start working with an attorney and on a separation agreement now, but you would not be able to file any claims in court (for example, equitable distribution or alimony) because you have not been a resident of the State of NC for the preceding six months. Your previous state will likely still have jurisdiction over these issues.
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