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State Legal Requirements for Divorce

Every state has specific laws dealing with divorce or "dissolution of marriage." The divorce process varies from state to state. For example, one state may have a mandatory waiting period while others, such as Florida, do not.

Some of the requirements for divorce include:

  • Residency
  • Waiting periods
  • Grounds for divorce
  • Defenses to divorce

Most states also have laws on annulments. An annulment is like a divorce in that it ends a marriage. But, with an annulment, the court determines that the marriage never happened. Or the judge may say the marriage did happen but was voidable.

Here, we'll briefly explain how these rules work and refer you to resources on Findlaw that will answer questions you have about the divorce process in your state.

See FindLaw's extensive Divorce section for more general information, including Property Division FAQ and An Overview of No-Fault and Fault Divorce Law.

Divorce Eligibility and State Law

If you're considering a divorce, confirm you're eligible to file for a divorce. This is especially important if you recently got married. Most states require at least one of the parties to be a resident for a few months before filing for divorce. Most states have residency requirements of at least three months.

Many states also impose a waiting period for no-fault divorce. Sometimes, this waiting period is as long as two years.

State divorce requirements vary the most on residency and waiting periods. For example, Missouri law requires that one party be a state resident for at least 90 days before filing for divorce. Missouri has no waiting period to file a divorce. But, at least 30 days must pass between the filing date and entry of a final divorce decree. Meanwhile, Connecticut has a 12-month residency rule and a 90-day waiting period between filing and entry of a divorce decree.

Below, you'll find links to the divorce laws in every state. Findlaw offers detailed information on state divorce laws. These include statutes on alimony, child custody, child support, equitable distribution of marital property, and other issues related to your marriage.

Separation or Reconciliation Before Divorce

Several states have "reconciliation counseling" laws focused on saving the marriage before finalizing a divorce. Florida courts, for example, may put divorce proceedings on hold for three months if you have minor children or if the respondent denies that the marriage is irretrievably broken.

During counseling, the parties work with a specially trained reconciliation lawyer to resolve differences and "fix" the marriage. Even if you can't save the marriage, the reconciliation process may help ease the pain of divorce. It can also help you and your spouse resolve issues that could cause a long delay in your divorce proceedings.

Most state courts will automatically enter a divorce decree if the parties separate and meet the basic eligibility requirements. Judges often use mandatory counseling to respect the sanctity of marriage and keep the family court dockets from becoming overwhelmed.

Grounds for Divorce

In most divorce cases, both spouses agree that the marriage is over. But this doesn't mean your spouse will agree to an uncontested divorce. The odds of you agreeing on all divorce terms are low. Many cases involve some contested issues. This means that the husband and wife disagree on things like custody, spousal support, and division of property.

Years ago, you had to cite specific grounds for divorce in your initial divorce petition. That is no longer the case. Many states offer a "no-fault" divorce. The courts require that the parties agree that their marriage is "irretrievably broken" or that they have "irreconcilable differences." They don't need you to cite adultery or desertion to qualify for a final divorce.

A no-fault divorce is one in which neither party is solely responsible for the marriage breakdown. This is unlike cases where one party had an affair or otherwise violated the terms of the marriage.

Some common grounds for divorce in some states assume that one spouse is at fault. State laws differ, but most states allow parties to file for an "at-fault" divorce if the other party:

  • Acts cruelly or violently (such as domestic violence)
  • Is a habitual drug user
  • Is convicted of a felony
  • Has abandoned their spouse
  • Is unable to consummate the marriage

Also, most states allow divorce if the courts declare one's spouse mentally incapacitated. Most states require that they be incapacitated for at least three years before filing a petition for dissolution of marriage. 

Can a Divorce Lawyer Help?

Some people don't believe they can afford a divorce lawyer. Unfortunately, you'll be severely disadvantaged if your spouse has an attorney and you don't. The judge won't pity you or relax the rules of evidence. When you present the case to the court, they'll hold you to the same standard as your soon-to-be ex-spouse's lawyer.

Meeting with an experienced family law attorney before making final decisions is worth it. Contact a divorce attorney in your state for more information.

You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

Or contact an attorney near you:

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

  • Divorces are tough and a lawyer can seek the best outcome
  • A lawyer can help protect your children's interests
  • Divorce lawyers can secure alimony, visitation rights, and property division

Get tailored divorce advice and ask a lawyer questions. Many attorneys offer free consultations.


 If you need an attorney, find one right now.

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