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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
Sign up to receive a 10-part series of useful information and legal advice about the divorce process.