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Filing for divorce

To begin the divorce process, you must file paperwork with the court and serve it to the other party.

Filing for divorce overview

Filing for divorce is the first step in the divorce process. Here's what you'll need to do to get started.

1. Know where to file

If you are a resident in a state, you can usually file for divorce in that state. It typically does not matter where the marriage occurred. To be a resident, you typically must have lived in the state for a certain period of time, ranging from 90 days to 1 year. There may also be local residency requirements based on your county.

2. Gather relevant documents

Finding an attorney to help you with filing for divorce is important. Before you consult with a lawyer, you should gather documents that are going to be relevant in your divorce proceedings. Relevant documents include:

  • Property deeds and titles
  • Receipts from large joint purchases
  • Tax returns
  • Bank statements
  • Other records of finances to get a clear picture of joint versus individual assets
  • Documents that would prove the reason for divorce, such as proof of abuse or adultery.

3. File a divorce petition

Where to get a divorce petition

The divorce petition is the first piece of paperwork that you, the petitioner, will file against your spouse, the respondent. The filing fee for divorce petitions are usually around $300, but could be more or less. The petition begins the process of the divorce. You can usually get a divorce petition from your local court that handles divorce matters, typically a state or county court. Courts often have the petitions available to print on court websites. Once the petitioner files the petition, the respondent can file a response to the petition, especially if they contest the divorce. However, courts do not normally require a respondent to respond.

What to include in a divorce petition

Each state has its own divorce laws, and most require that you state your grounds for divorce in the divorce petition. In most states, grounds for divorce include cruel treatment, abandonment, adultery, abuse, imprisonment, or separation for a period of time. Most states also have no-fault divorces, which do not require a specific ground, but do require you and your spouse to have irreconcilable differences or an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. Additionally, you may have to include in the divorce petition what exactly it is that you want out of the divorce, such as alimony or child support.

4. Serve the papers to your spouse

Service of process is how you notify your spouse, the respondent, that you are seeking a divorce against them. The filing fee varies but is usually around $50. Most states require you to serve papers in person, called personal service. Sometimes courts will allow you to serve process by mail or by publication, but only under very specific circumstances.

Once you have filed for divorce and notified your spouse, you can get started on drafting your separation agreement. If you and your spouse can agree on the details of your separation agreement, you can speed up the process and file for uncontested divorce.

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