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How to Initiate a Divorce

You and your spouse are dissatisfied in your marriage and have decided to get divorced. The challenging decision-making process is complete, but you could be left bewildered and scared by the real process of filing for divorce. In the end you’re not proficient in family law. You might not have ever communicated with a local court system or the office of the county clerk.

There are a lot of important things to concentrate on when you’re terminating your marriage – spousal support, custody, the splitting of marital property… The only thing you don’t need is to stress out about how the process will be prior to you even looking at the divorce paperwork.

We want you to know a couple of things about what you’re getting into for prior to you filing for divorce. In this way, you’ll be better equipped to make decisions that leads up to an easier divorce for the both of you, and your children. There are a couple of various kinds of divorce where their processes differ, so think of this as your general outline.

Filing the Divorce Petition

The initial step in the divorce process is to file the petition for divorcing. This paperwork, which some states otherwise call a divorce complaint, enables one spouse to begin the divorce case.

The petition largely just validates the grounds for divorce, establishes the parties and details how they fulfill that state’s residency requirements (you can look them up on your local court website — they vary by state, and you aren’t required to file in the same state in which your marriage license was issued. The petitioner may also take this chance to request that brief court orders be put into place concerning things such as custody and parenting time, alimony and child support, and which spouse is going to continue residing in the marital home, which the court might or might not award.

Other divorce documentation needs to also be filed during this time, but they differ a little bit subject to where you live. This commonly includes a divorce summons, that formally gives notice to your spouse that the legal process has started, documents detailing your income and assets, and documents establishes your children and the regular costs related with them.

The petitioner has the responsibility of filling out all this preliminary documents. They are also going to have to pay a filing fee at that point, but you can by all means, negotiate dividing the cost with your spouse if you choose. Filing fees also differ by state, and you can locate that information on your local court’s website in addition. The date you file is going to serve as your legal separation date, at that time you will stop accumulating marital property.

Serving Your Spouse

Once you’ve filed preliminary documents, the next step is formally serving your spouse. This involves providing them with a copy of the filed papers, and the legal requirements vary by state, so adherence is crucial.

In California, any person over eighteen not involved in the case can serve divorce papers, but some states mandate the use of a licensed process server. Hiring a professional is advisable, as incorrect service may necessitate starting the process anew.

While challenging, it’s recommended to inform your spouse about the impending divorce papers before formal service, if you feel it’s safe to do so. This prevents an unpleasant surprise, preserving the potential for a more amicable divorce process.

Waiting for a Response

After reviewing the completed paperwork, your soon-to-be ex must fulfill their set of responsibilities. The respondent, regardless of the initiator in no-fault divorces, has an equal set of documents to complete and file. In fault divorces, the petitioner alleges wrongdoing by the respondent, justifying ending the marriage. Your spouse has a specific timeframe to avoid default judgment. The process is efficient, ensuring you don’t have to wait indefinitely.

Navigating Divorce Negotiations

Contrary to cinematic depictions, only a small percentage of divorces proceed to court. Most couples settle outside court through self-negotiation, mediation, or legal counsel. Some may already have a prenup or separation agreement, streamlining the process.

Uncontested Divorce: A Fortunate Position

Settling independently leads to an uncontested divorce, potentially reducing attorney fees significantly. Even seeking legal advice saves chargeable hours.

Mediation: A Balanced Alternative

When agreement isn’t immediate, mediation offers a balanced option. A professional guides negotiations, especially crucial discussions like custody and asset division. Although costlier than online divorces, it’s more affordable than both parties hiring individual attorneys.

Legal Counsel and Out-of-Court Settlement

When spouses struggle to agree, hiring lawyers for out-of-court settlement is an option. Negotiations may take longer than mediation but occur through letter exchanges, differing from real-time discussions.

Finalizing Negotiations

Regardless of the chosen resolution method, final negotiations involve addressing spousal maintenance, dividing assets and debts, and creating a parenting plan for children.

Family Court: A Last Resort

In rare cases, even high-paid attorneys may fail to reach an agreement, leading to family court. Here, a judge makes final decisions, a daunting prospect due to their limited understanding of your situation. Avoiding this fate is encouraged due to the time, cost, and potential emotional trauma of a divorce trial.

Receiving Your Divorce Decree

Following the response document being filed, a lot of states have proper waiting period or required period of time of legal separation prior to your marriage being affirmed over. This is when you both are going to be ironing-out your custody and property specifics.

After the designated period has concluded, a judge can then issue a divorce decree. This document states that your marriage terminated.


    1. Berger, M. (n.d.). How to start the divorce process. wordmark-copyright.

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