How Do I File For A Divorce? 1

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The Basics of Beginning Divorce Proceedings

While state laws vary with regards to residency requirements and legal grounds for divorce, all states require a Petition for Divorce to be filed in order to instigate divorce proceedings.

This Petition is a legal form that names the parties, identifies the court and jurisdiction and outlines the cause of action. In addition, the Petition for Divorce will usually also include a generic request for relief that defines the property distribution, child custody, child support and/or alimony requested by the filing party.

If you and your spouse have agreed to the divorce, this request for relief could simply refer to an attached custody and financial agreement that you and your spouse have drafted together.

Both parties must have notice of the proceedings so, your spouse must then be “served”, which amounts to receiving official notice that a Petition for Divorce has been filed.

If you are handling your own divorce (without an attorney), you will also be required to handle the process serving of your spouse. This can be accomplished in one of two ways: you can serve your spouse personally and obtain their signature confirming service or you can hire a process server to handle this piece of your divorce for you.

If you are unable to locate your spouse, you may be able to accomplish legal service through “public notice”. See our article to learn more about filing for divorce when your spouse is missing.

Before you can file your Petition however, you’ll have to do some research to be sure that you meet those residency requirements we mentioned earlier. This particular requirement varies widely and can range from simply being a resident at the time of filing to having lived in the state and county at least one year prior to the date of filing, so you’ll need to check the laws of your state to be sure.

During your research, you’ll also want to make note of the acceptable grounds for divorce in your state so that you can tailor your Petition to match. Some states, for example, offer both at-fault and no-fault grounds while some states allow only no-fault petitions. Understanding the difference as well as the requirements for your state are important aspects of filing for divorce.

There a number of do-it-yourself divorce forms that can be very useful when you want to handle it on your own or “pro se” – but these forms are generally only useful in an “uncontested” divorce (where the parties are in agreement about key aspects of the divorce, and where there is little marital property to be considered). Because of the amount of research and paperwork involved, many people opt to hire a divorce attorney to handle these matters.

To learn more, read our article outlining the divorce process step-by-step.


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