How to File for Divorce

Four Parts:Getting Ready to File for DivorceFiling Divorce PapersFiling Financial Disclosure FormsCompleting the Divorce

Filing for divorce can be an overwhelming process, especially since it differs state by state. It's important to conduct research to make sure the procedure happens smoothly and you're satisfied with the outcome. Read on for information about what you need to as you're preparing to file for divorce and how to navigate the filing process.

Part 1
Getting Ready to File for Divorce

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    Figure out where to file. Most states have a minimum residency requirement for people who want to file for divorce.
    • If you've lived in the same place for six months or longer, you can probably file for divorce in your county, even if your spouse does not live there.
    • If you haven't lived in the same place for long, you may have to first file for separation and then file for divorce after you've met the residency requirements of your state.
    • In most cases you must file in the state where you live, even if you got married in a different state. Exceptions may be made for same-sex couples who got married in a state other than their state of residency for legal reasons.
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    Decide what outcome you want to have. Divorce can take many forms. In some cases it is amicable and relatively easy to bring about, but it can also get very complicated. What kind of divorce will bring about the results you want? Consider the following variables:
    • Do you own property or other assets with your spouse that you plan to divide?
    • Do you have children with your spouse, and will you be seeking custody?
    • If you are seeking custody, will you also seek child support from your spouse?
    • Consider creating a divorce mission statement so that you can clearly outline your goals and desires.
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    Gather information. In advance of meeting with a lawyer for a consultation, you'll need a concrete picture of what you and your spouse will be dividing. Organize documentation on both your assets and your debts, including the following:
    • Real estate, bank accounts, and valuable personal property.
    • Mortgages, loans, and credit card balances.
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    Meet with a lawyer. Schedule a consultation with an experienced divorce lawyer. Even seemingly straightforward divorces can end up getting complicated, and a divorce lawyer can answer specific questions about your circumstances. Even if you end up representing yourself, a one-hour consultation with a lawyer will help you get the ball rolling.
    • Be prepared to talk about your goals and desired outcome.
    • Bring the documentation you gathered on your assets and debts.
    • Have a list of questions that are specific to your situation ready to ask the lawyer.
    • Have the lawyer help you create a filing plan according to the laws that apply in your county.

Part 2
Filing Divorce Papers

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    Fill out the correct court forms. Go to the county courthouse or visit their website online to obtain the forms you need to fill out to start your divorce case.
    • The spouse filing is known as the "Petitioner" and the receiver of the petition is known as the "Respondent". The most common reason for filing is "irreconcilable differences" for a no-fault divorce.
    • In most cases you will fill out a Family Law Petition, giving the court information about your marriage and the orders you want the court to make.
    • You'll fill out a Summons, which describes important information about the divorce process in your county, including standard restrictions regarding handling your assets and debts during the proceedings.
    • If you have property in question you'll fill out a Property Declaration form.
    • If you have children under 18 with your spouse, you'll fill out forms regarding child custody and visitation.
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    Have the forms reviewed. In order for the divorce petition to be processed smoothly, it's important that the forms be filled out correctly with accurate information.
    • Ask you lawyer to review the forms and make recommendations.
    • If you don't wish to work with a lawyer, ask for help from the court's family law facilitator or self help center.
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    File the forms. Once everything is properly filled out, return the forms to the court to officially file them.
    • Make two copies of the forms, so that you and your spouse both have one. File the original with the court.
    • You'll have to pay a filing fee, which varies from state to state. The fee can amount to several hundred dollars; if you can't afford it, ask for a fee waiver.
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    Have your spouse served with the divorce papers. This is the legal process of notifying your spouse that a petition for divorce has been filed, and the court cannot proceed until the papers have been served.
    • Find or hire a "server" to give the papers to your spouse. You can't do it yourself, but you can ask a friend or relative over age 18, hire a professional process server, or use the sheriff.
    • Have the server serve the correct papers either in person or in some cases by mail, if this arrangement has been agreed upon.
    • Have the server fill out a Proof of Service form. Have your lawyer or a member of the court staff make sure it is filled out correctly.
    • Make a copy of the Proof of Service form, then file it with the court clerk.

Part 3
Filing Financial Disclosure Forms

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    Make a Declaration of Disclosure after filing your petition. In order for your petition to proceed, you and your spouse must both disclose your financial information and file it with the court.
    • According to your circumstances, fill out either a Declaration of Disclosure and the accompanying forms, or the more simplified financial statement form. Talk to your lawyer about which one makes sense for you.
    • In most cases you will have to attach your tax returns from the past two years.
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    Have your spouse served with the financial disclosure forms. Your spouse should also have you served with financial disclosure forms, so that you are in agreement about which assets and debts you'll be dividing.
    • Make sure you save a few copies of the forms. These forms will not be filed with the court, so it's important that you have them filed with your personal records.
    • If there is a change in your financial situation after filing the preliminary disclosure forms, you will have to fill out a second set of forms and go through the declaration procedure again.

Part 4
Completing the Divorce

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    Write up an agreement with your spouse. If your spouse has cooperated throughout the process, the next step is to write up an agreement regarding assets, debts, and child custody.
    • Have a lawyer help you write the agreement to make sure it is legally sound.
    • Have the agreement notarized.
    • If your spouse did not respond to your petition for divorce or your Declaration of Disclosure after 30 days, you will fill out your final forms without first writing up an agreement.
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    Fill out the final forms. Fill out a series of final forms regarding your assets and debts, child custody, child support, and other specifics regarding your situation.
    • Have your lawyer or a member of the court staff review your forms to make sure they are correctly filled out.
    • Make copies of the forms and file them with the court.
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    Receive your judgement. After reviewing the final forms, the court will send you a judgement notice notifying you of the outcome of your divorce and any further steps you must take to finalize it.
    • If your spouse contests the divorce, you may have to attend a court hearing. The judge will look over the and may make changes to agreements pertaining to assets, alimony, child Support, custody, and any other anything the judge may consider amending.


  • Look up your state's court website for specific information about how you should pursue a divorce.


  • The procedure for filing for divorce is different in each state.

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Categories: Divorce