How to File for Divorce

How to File for Divorce: Your Comprehensive Guide


Divorce may not have been in your original plans, but it sometimes becomes necessary. The good news is that not every divorce needs to be complicated, and you don’t always need an attorney. Here’s a guide to help you through the process.

Filing for Divorce in Your State

Each state has its own specific forms for divorce, available on the state court website or at the courthouse. You can file these forms yourself or with an attorney. Typically, you’ll need to submit a petition or complaint for divorce, which details your requests regarding asset distribution, debts, support, and child custody.

Once filed, your spouse can respond to the petition. Both sides can request documents from each other for complete information. Mediation or settlement meetings may be required in some states.

If the divorce doesn’t settle, a trial will be scheduled where a judge will make the final decision. Complex cases involving many assets or custody issues might take several days or weeks to resolve.

Requirements for Filing a Divorce

Each state has its own requirements for filing a divorce, including residency requirements, waiting periods, and grounds for divorce.

Residency Requirements

You don’t need to file for divorce in the state where you were married. Instead, you must meet the residency requirements of the state where you currently live. Generally, you need to reside in the state for at least three months before filing, but this varies by state. If one spouse lives in another state, you can choose where to file.

Waiting Period

Divorces aren’t finalized immediately. Even if both parties agree, states often have a waiting period. For instance, California requires a six-month wait, while Texas has a 60-day waiting period. States with longer waiting periods, especially for couples with minor children, use this time for emotions to cool and for couples to reach a settlement if possible.

Grounds for Divorce

All states allow no-fault divorces, meaning neither spouse is blamed. However, other grounds like adultery, imprisonment, abandonment, legal separation, or cruel treatment can be used, requiring proof.

Do You Need an Attorney?

While it’s possible to file for divorce without an attorney, complicated cases with significant assets, debts, or custody issues often require legal expertise. Some couples agree on all terms and use one attorney to handle paperwork, but each spouse should have their own attorney review any settlement before filing.

Many people successfully file without an attorney by using the court’s self-help center, which provides the correct forms but not legal advice.

Starting the Divorce Process

When filing for divorce, you’ll typically need three forms: a family court cover sheet, a complaint or petition for divorce, and a summons. The cover sheet includes basic information about you, your spouse, and any children. The complaint details what you’re requesting from the divorce, and the summons notifies your spouse of the divorce filing. These forms are filed with the court clerk, who date stamps and enters them into the court record.

Serving Your Spouse

You must legally notify your spouse of the divorce filing, usually through a professional process server who delivers the documents and files a proof of service. Some states, like Hawaii, allow service by certified or registered mail. Check your state’s requirements.

Responding to Divorce Papers

If you are the respondent, you must file your response within the given timeframe, typically 21 days. In your response, you state what you agree or disagree with in the complaint. You can also contest everything, giving you time to consider your options. Make several copies of your response for the court, your spouse, and your records.

Uncontested vs. Contested Divorce

An uncontested divorce occurs when you agree with everything in the petition or have reached a mutual settlement. Some states reduce waiting periods for uncontested divorces. If you don’t respond, the case proceeds without you.

In a contested divorce, both sides present their cases in court, and the judge makes the final decision. Providing evidence to support your claims, such as proof of drug abuse for custody issues, can strengthen your case.

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Why Choose Onward?

Onward offers comprehensive resources and personalized support to help you through this difficult period. Our platform provides:

  • Educational Modules: Learn everything you need to know about the divorce and annulment processes.
  • Divorce Coach Consultations: Get expert advice tailored to your situation.
  • Child Custody Guidance: Navigate custody agreements and visitation rights.
  • Financial Tools: Manage and divide assets with ease.

Flexible Pricing Plans

We understand that everyone's needs and financial situations are different. That's why Onward offers three pricing tiers:

  1. Free Plan: Access to three learning modules and one divorce coach consultation.
  2. Standard Plan: $50/month for unlimited modules, tools, a chatbot, and one divorce coach consultation.
  3. Premium Plan: $400/month for everything in the Standard Plan, plus a dedicated divorce coach with two monthly video calls and unlimited messaging.

Make the Right Choice for You

Choosing between divorce and annulment is a significant decision that depends on your unique circumstances. Understanding the legal grounds, processes, and implications is crucial. With Onward, you can make informed choices with confidence.

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