What Papers Do You Need to Get a Divorce?

By Jane Haskins, Esq.

What Papers Do You Need to Get a Divorce?

By Jane Haskins, Esq.

A divorce case begins when you file a petition for divorce and deliver it to your spouse. You'll also typically file a financial affidavit that describes your income, expenses, and property. Other common documents include a settlement agreement and a parenting plan.

Here's an overview of these basic divorce papers and where to get them.

What Forms Do I Need to File for Divorce?

Different states have different divorce forms and different laws. However, some documents are common across the board.

1. Dissolution of Marriage Petition

To start a divorce, file a document known as a “petition" with your local court and pay a filing fee. A divorce petition includes basic information, like the names of the parties, the county you live in, when you were married, and your grounds for divorce. If you can't afford the filing fee, you may be able to get it waived.

Unless you and your spouse file for divorce jointly, you'll also need a summons. A summons notifies your spouse (the “defendant") that you've filed for divorce, and it gives the defendant a deadline for filing a formal response. The summons and petition must be delivered to, or “served on," the defendant. In some states, someone other than you must hand deliver them. In other states, they can be mailed.

2. Settlement Agreement

You may have a contested or uncontested divorce. In an uncontested divorce, you and your spouse agree on all the issues you need to deal with before your divorce can be final. This includes whether to get divorced at all, alimony, child support, child custody, and dividing your property and debts.

In a contested divorce, you disagree about one or more issues. Most couples with contested divorces do eventually reach an agreement, either on their own or with the help of a lawyer or mediator.

Your written agreement about support, custody, and property is known as a settlement agreement. You'll each sign it, and you'll file it with the court as part of your divorce case. When your divorce is final, the settlement agreement will be part of the court's order.

3. Financial Affidavit

A financial affidavit is a sworn document that lists your income, expenses, debts, money, and property. You and your spouse must each file one in almost all divorce cases. A judge uses the information in a financial affidavit to set child and spousal support, award attorneys' fees, and if necessary divide up property.

It can be hard to find specific advice on how to fill out a financial affidavit. A good rule is to take your time and be as accurate as possible. You may have to defend your affidavit's numbers in a deposition or in court. You may want help from a friend, an accountant, or a lawyer.

4. Parenting Plan

If you have children, a parenting plan is your guide for handling major decisions as well as everyday life after your divorce. A parenting plan describes when the children will be with each parent. It says who will pay for things like music lessons and college tuition. It covers vacations, medical emergencies, and decisions about education and religion.

Although parenting plans typically follow a standard format, parenting responsibilities may be shared in many ways. Ideally, you and your ex will agree on a plan that makes sense for your family. The parenting plan will be included in the final divorce decree.

Where Can I Get Divorce Forms?

Your county court clerk's office or website can tell you how to get divorce forms for your state. These forms may include general instructions for how to fill them out. You can also find the appropriate online divorce papers by using a tool that asks questions and prepares your forms for you.

Divorce works a little differently in each state. Now that you have some basic information about divorce documents, you can find out what exactly you need to do to end your marriage in the state where you live.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.

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