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Understanding Divorce


A divorce is an order by the court that terminates a marriage. A divorce is sometimes called a dissolution of marriage, and is different than an annulment, which states that the marriage never existed. A divorce acknowledges that a marriage did exist, but no longer does.

Fault vs. no-fault divorce

A fault divorce is when one spouse blames the other for the failure of the marriage. Reasons may include adultery, physical abuse, mental cruelty, or a drug or alcohol problem. In some states, a fault divorce can affect the division of property and awarding of spousal support.

A no-fault divorce is more common, and is granted when neither spouse blames the other for the collapse of the marriage. Instead they may cite irreconcilable differences, agree that the marriage can't be fixed, and then go their separate ways. A no-fault divorce usually does not have an effect on the division of property or spousal support.

Filing a petition for divorce

The first step in any divorce proceeding is to file a petition for divorce. The petition must be filed with the court in the county where you live, most likely the family court that deals with marriage and divorce issues. Once one spouse files the petition, a copy will be delivered to the other spouse by an impartial third party. Spouses or children are not allowed to deliver the petition.

Most of the necessary forms are available from the court clerk, but be advised that the clerk is not allowed to help you fill them out.

The divorce process

While the reasons that marriages end in divorce are many and varied, the process of filing for divorce is very much the same from state to state. Whether starting with a legal separation or going ahead with divorce proceedings, couples will need to come to some agreement on several major issues such as:

  • How joint property will be divided
  • Who is responsible for any debts incurred in the marriage
  • An amount, if any, for alimony or spousal support
  • A plan for child custody and visitation
  • A plan for any child support that will be paid

If at all possible, it is better if a divorcing couple can reach these important agreements themselves or through mediation. A divorce hearing, in which the court makes many of these decisions on behalf of the two parties, is a last resort.

Additional resources:

Avvo's Divorce Resource Center

Avvo's Child Support Resource Center

Avvo's Child Custody Resource Center

Avvo's Family Law Resource Center

Divorce Net: Family Law Information, Solutions, News, and Community

About Divorce: Divorce Laws in all the States of the U.S.

Related Legal Guides:

Legal Separation

Divorce Mediation

No-Fault Divorce

Divorce Settlement

Military Divorce

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