This section provides general information (not state-specific) about the basic steps to get a divorce.
What are the basic steps for filing for divorce?
While divorce laws vary by state, here are the basic steps that a person may have to follow in most states:
- First, you or your spouse must meet the residency requirements of the state you want to file in.
- Second, you must have “grounds” (a legally acceptable reason) to end your marriage, which may include a no-fault ground such as irreconcilable differences.
- Third, you must file the appropriate divorce papers and have copies sent to your spouse - for the exact rules for serving the papers, contact your local courthouse or an attorney.
- Fourth, if your spouse disagrees with anything in the divorce papers, then s/he will have the opportunity to file papers telling her/his side. This may be called “contesting the divorce.” If s/he contests it, then you may have a series of court appearances to sort the issues out. If your spouse does not disagree with anything, then s/he may sign the appropriate divorce papers and send them back to you and/or the court (depending on your state). If your spouse agrees with everything and signs the papers, this may be called an “uncontested divorce.” Also, if a certain period of time passes and your spouse does not sign the papers or file any papers of his/her own, you may be able to proceed with the divorce as an uncontested divorce anyway. (Speak to a lawyer in your state about how long you have to wait to see if your spouse answers before you can continue with the divorce).
- Fifth, if there is property, assets, a pension, debts, or anything else that you need divided, or if you need financial support from your spouse, then these issues may have to be dealt with during the divorce or else you may lose your chance to deal with these issues. The issues may be worked out during settlement negotiations and incorporated into the divorce decree or in a series of court hearings during the divorce. Custody may also be decided as part of your divorce.
Where can I find additional information about divorce?
The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges has a free, in-depth information packet called "Managing Your Divorce: A Guide for Battered Women," which you may find helpful, especially if you have to represent yourself in your divorce. There are also other information packets on related topics which can be found on their website.