How Do I File for Divorce?

By Beverly Bird

The road from deciding you want to end your marriage to beginning the actual legal process can be a bumpy one. Many of your early decisions can impact the entire proceedings and determine whether your divorce is amicable or a hard-fought battle. Although the legal process of filing a divorce petition and serving it on your spouse is similar from state to state, the steps you take to get to that point can vary depending on your personal situation.

Step 1

Decide if you want to use an attorney. Generally, if you haven’t been married long, have no children and have not acquired a great deal of property or debt together, you could probably handle the divorce on your own. Although paying an attorney can be expensive, without one you might risk losing custody of your children or making a decision that could cost you thousands of dollars in property to which you didn’t know you had a right.

Step 2

Research your state’s laws if you decide to proceed “pro se,” without a lawyer. Make sure you meet your state’s residency requirements and find out the available grounds on which you can file. Learn your state’s statutory methods for establishing child support, property division, debt division and custody. You’ll need a firm, working knowledge of these things when you file your petition so you know what to ask for.

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Step 3

Talk with your spouse to find out her feelings regarding your divorce. If she’s not fighting it, this can affect the way you file. If you’re both in the same neighborhood regarding your thoughts on how to resolve issues of your marriage, you might be able to negotiate a settlement. If so, your divorce can proceed uncontested.

Step 4

Prepare a marital settlement agreement if you can agree on the terms of your divorce. Be meticulous in addressing all possible issues, not just the obvious. In addition to custody, support and property distribution, you should include provisions for how you’re going to settle any disputes that come up after your divorce is final. You can purchase marital settlement forms online that will guide you to address all important topics.

Step 5

Access the paperwork you’ll need to file for divorce. All states require a petition or complaint to begin the process, but many require other documents as well. If you and your spouse have reached an agreement, many jurisdictions will allow you to file a petition for divorce jointly, along with the agreement. Check your state’s website to find out what you’ll need. Some offer packets of forms for all required documents. After you’ve identified what you need, if your state doesn’t offer the forms, they’re usually available from legal websites.

Step 6

Complete your paperwork and take it to the appropriate court for filing. In most states, you’ll need your original documents and at least one copy. The court clerk will keep your original papers and return the stamped copies to you.

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