Where to File for Divorce

The first thing to decide is whether to do it yourself or retain a divorce attorney. You can do a “simple" or uncontested divorce yourself or with some legal advice. If you and your spouse can agree to take your separate property and walk away, an uncontested divorce is for you.

Filing for divorce can be stressful. There are many questions to answer after reaching your decision. Questions like: Where do I file my paperwork? Where do I get general information about divorce? How do I find court forms? Here is a brief guide to determining where and how to file for divorce.

Filing for Divorce

In a complex or contested divorce, there are issues of property division, alimony, child support, or other matters. If your divorce process involves any of these issues, you should see a family law attorney.

Divorce Jurisdiction

State courts handle divorce proceedings. To begin a divorce, one spouse files divorce forms at the county clerk's office in the courthouse. Most states have a family court division that handles divorces and other family matters. You should file the divorce papers at the courthouse nearest to your residence. You can visit the county court's website to see where to file your divorce documents.

If there are minor children involved in your divorce, you should consult a family law attorney. You can only file a child custody case in the state where the child lives. If your spouse lives in another state, you can file for divorce in either state. You must file for child custody where the child lives.

State and County/District Residency Requirements

Most states have residency requirements for people who wish to file for divorce in the state's court system. These requirements can range from as few as six weeks in Nevada to a year in New York. Some counties have residency requirements around three or six months. You can ask the court clerk's office about your county's residency requirements.

Before filing for divorce, you will most likely need to follow state residency requirements and local county or district residency requirements. Check with the local county or district branch of your state's court to learn more about residency requirements for filing for divorce.

Next Steps for Do-It-Yourself Divorce

If you're doing your divorce alone, you may be uncertain about what happens next. Some courthouses offer self-help centers that can provide legal forms and explain how to complete the documents. They cannot give you legal advice.

After you've completed the documents, you must file them at the proper courthouse and pay a filing fee. You can request a fee waiver if you cannot afford the filing fee. Your divorce case gets a case number. Now you must “serve" the divorce documents on your spouse. This means someone unrelated to the case must give them to your spouse. The server must sign an affidavit of service saying they served your spouse and send the affidavit to the court. This is proof that your spouse has received the divorce documents and will cause the case to start moving forward in the court system.

In an uncontested divorce, the judge sets a court hearing date to review the settlement agreement and divorce judgment with the parties. There may be a waiting period before the judgment becomes final. After that, the couple is no longer married. The divorce decree is with the court, which can take several weeks.

If You Think You Need an Attorney

Even in a simple divorce, you may need a lawyer to help you. Some signs you may need a divorce attorney include:

  • Minor children: If you have children, you should not try a self-help divorce. There are too many things that can trip you up. Visitation (also known as "access") and parenting time are some of the most contentious issues in divorce.
  • Spousal support or alimony: Some state laws may require spousal support for marriages over ten years, but other states have no guarantee of spousal support at all. Parties can waive alimony with the proper forms.
  • Marital property division: If you and your spouse have a house, real property, or other property titled in both your names (such as a boat, RV, or vehicles), or a property that was acquired during the marriage, you need an attorney to represent your legal rights.
  • Domestic violence: Domestic violence is a serious issue in divorce cases. A judge can issue an emergency restraining order and serve it on the respondent with the complaint for divorce. Or there may be a separate domestic violence protective order granted.

Have Questions About Where to File for Divorce? Get in Touch With an Attorney

Even an “easy" divorce can be stressful for the litigants. Court rules for the dissolution of marriage can be confusing, even in a simple divorce. Couples should always consult a divorce attorney for legal advice and a review of their documents based on their specific situation.

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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.

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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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