How to Divorce

One of the first considerations when filing for a divorce is where to file. Typically, this is in the county and state where one or both of you live. Determine if you meet the state's residency requirements.

You've decided you're ready to get divorced, but what must you do next? You need to learn how the divorce process works.

A divorce case is generally an adversarial action, which can pit spouse against spouse. The following resources are designed to help individuals navigate the process as smoothly as possible. It provides general information regarding the divorce law applicable to your case. This section covers:

  • No-fault divorces
  • Where to file for divorce
  • Serving and answering a divorce petition
  • The discovery and general family court processes
  • Divorce records and related privacy issues
  • Child support and custody
  • Divorce mediation
  • Other important topics

You've come to the right place for an overview of the divorce process and related family law matters.

Legal Requirements for Divorce

Seeking legal advice from an experienced family law attorney can help determine if other options are available. These options can include a legal separation or annulment, depending on the circumstances.

You could get a summary divorce if you don't have any kids or many assets subject to marital property distribution. In most states, couples who meet the requirements for an uncontested divorce can file a petition for summary dissolution.

If you or your spouse are in the military, the location where you are currently stationed is a place you can file. However, there are rules to protect active duty servicemembers from civil lawsuits. For more on this, read the articles on residency and military divorces.

Completing and Filing Divorce Petitions

You can complete divorce forms independently, at a self-help legal clinic, or with a lawyer. To complete the divorce petition, consider whether you want a "no-fault" or "fault" divorce.

no-fault divorce allows a court to enter a divorce decree without requiring one party to prove fault. Most states do not require spouses to provide a reason for the divorce. Some states, however, allow a party to cast blame on traditional fault grounds.

Fault divorces are for situations that include, for example, abuse or adultery. Alleging fault could reduce the waiting period required in some states to finalize a divorce. Proving fault might also increase the alimony or the share of the marital property.

Divorce Filings With Minor Children

In divorce proceedings involving children, there are additional filings. These filings include child custody and child support papers. A divorce case with minor children also involves issues such as:

  • Parenting time
  • Health insurance coverage
  • Claiming children on tax returns

It could be necessary to get temporary orders for these matters while the divorce is pending.

Divorce Filings Involving Marital Property Distribution

Seeking legal advice is a good idea to avoid waiver of various rights, including:

  • Marital property
  • Spousal support
  • Other rights

family law attorney can help you through the legal process. They can also help advise you on the equitable distribution of assets and liabilities. This distribution includes agreements relating to:

  • Bank accounts
  • Retirement accounts
  • Real estate
  • Credit card balances and other liabilities

Legal advice is especially beneficial if your marital property includes significant assets or if you have a contested divorce.

Serving Divorce Papers

Once you've paid the filing fee and filed your divorce papers, you must "serve" the divorce papers on your spouse. Generally, this means another adult must physically give the divorce papers to your spouse.

You can use professional process servers or you can choose to save money by having a friend serve the petition for divorce papers. If your divorce case involves domestic violence, law enforcement in some counties will serve the papers without charging the usual fee.

Answering a Divorce Petition

Maybe your spouse just served you with dissolution papers in a divorce case. You can tell the court what you want to recover in the divorce. This includes issues such as:

  • Child custody
  • Child support
  • Spousal support (also known as alimony in some states)

You must answer within the deadline set by state law. In responding, you can fill out the court forms yourself, at a legal clinic, or with the help of an experienced divorce lawyer. Consider hiring an attorney if there are disagreements about what to do with children or property.

Mediation and Settling a Divorce Case

Many divorces end with a settlement agreement signed by both parties. Some states require mediation to help reach a property settlement and a parenting plan.

Even without a formal program, you and your spouse can use a collaborative divorce process from the beginning. Alternatively, you may agree to use an alternative dispute resolution specialist or an arbitrator to help you settle your divorce.

Trial and Appeals

If your divorce case goes to trial, you must present evidence. This evidence can include documents and testimony from witnesses. Evidence aids the judge in making decisions about your property, parenting time, and support before issuing the court order in your divorce case. It will be easier if an attorney represents you at trial. You may also want to appeal or modify a divorce judgment. This section provides articles on these topics as well.

Contact a Divorce Attorney

If you need more clarification on the laws in your jurisdiction or representation, contact an experienced divorce lawyer. An experienced divorce lawyer can review the laws of your state, determine how they apply to you, and give you the best legal options.

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Can I Solve This on My Own or Do I Need an Attorney?

  • You may not need an attorney for a simple divorce with uncontested issues
  • Legal advice is critical to protect your interests in a contested divorce
  • Divorce lawyers can help secure fair custody/visitation, support, and property division

An attorney is a skilled advocate during negotiations and court proceedings. Many attorneys offer free consultations.

Find a local attorney

Don't Forget About Estate Planning

Divorce is an ideal time to review your beneficiary designations on life insurance, bank accounts, and retirement accounts. You need to change your estate planning forms to reflect any new choices about your personal representative and beneficiaries. You can change your power of attorney if you named your ex-spouse as your agent. Also, change your health care directive to remove them from making your health care decisions.

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