Most states have a residency requirement for filing a petition for divorce or dissolution, which simply means that if you are filing for a divorce in that state, you must have lived there for a certain period of time. Residency periods are typically from around 6 months to 1 year. A few states don't have a residency requirement, and you just need to live there on the day you file your petition. If you have recently moved to a new state, check the law before you file.
You can get a court order for a legal separation and it can cover issues such as child custody, child visitation, child support, property and debt division, and spousal support. There is no need to get this order before filing for a divorce or dissolution of marriage, but some people prefer to legally separate instead of divorce for religious or other reasons. The couple may also want to make sure that their agreement about the children, finances, debts, and so on, are clear while they try to repair a faltering relationship.
A divorce or dissolution usually begins with the filing of a form, typically referred to as a petition. This must be filed with the court that deals with marriages in the county where you live, which may be called a family law court. After the petition has been filed, a copy must be served on (or delivered to) your spouse. Neither you nor your children can do that. The petition must be served by an adult who isn't involved in the case. Read instructions carefully or get advice on how to do this properly.
You can often get the forms you need from the clerk of the court, but the clerk won't be able to help you fill them out. (Clerks aren't allowed to practice law.) There is a short or simplified form you can use in some states or counties if you meet certain conditions, such as agreeing on all issues and having no children.
Working Out Property Division
You will need to either work out an agreement on how your property is to be divided or argue about it at a trial. Courts prefer that the parties work things out for themselves, and some states or counties require a mandatory mediation, which means meeting with a neutral third party who will help you resolve conflicts over who gets what.
If the parties can't agree on a way to divide their property, the court will decide. There are two ways courts usually divide property, depending on state law.
Working Out Spousal Support/Alimony
Support paid by one ex-spouse for the support of the other used to be called alimony, but is now often called spousal support or maintenance. The laws for spousal support vary a great deal from state to state, and you should be sure you know what your state requires. Spousal support can be awarded to both husbands and wives.
Spousal support can be permanent, for a set time, for a time that will allow the supported spouse to become self-supporting, or a lump sum. A court can consider factors like the length of the marriage, the physical and emotional states of the spouses, the income and assets of both spouses, homemaking contributions, time needed for parenting, and whether one spouse helped the other to advance in a career.
Working Out Child Support
After a divorce or dissolution, both parents remain responsible for supporting the children. Divorcing parents need to decide how they will divide up the childcare expenses. There are several factors to consider in working this out, such as the income and assets of the parents and whether one parent has primary childcare responsibilities. Child support may have tax consequences.
If the parents can't work this out cooperatively, the court will make the decisions and order the parents to comply. Child support is usually for minor children, but a court may order that a parent continue to pay support when a child is an adult if the child is attending school or is disabled or otherwise dependent.