Are you initiating a divorce or think that your spouse wants to initiate one? Here is what you can expect from the process.

Filing the Divorce Petition

For the court to allow any divorce proceedings, you or your spouse must petition the court for a divorce. A petition is a legal document filed with the court which includes the following pertinent details:

  • The grounds for the divorce.
  • Proof of meeting residence requirements per the statutory guidelines.
  • Any other details required by your specific state.

It helps to engage the local courts to understand what you must include in the petition. Alternatively, you can consult an experienced family law attorney who can help you work out the kinks of the paperwork.

States do not follow a standard measure of residency. However, in most states, you or your spouse must have lived in the state for at least three months before the petition. Additionally, you must have resided in the county of filing for at least ten days before filing the petition. If you do not meet the set-out requirements, the court will not allow you to move ahead with the divorce processes.

Your reason for divorce also matters. States allow you to file a no-fault divorce where you do not have to break down the reason for the divorce. Instead, you can cite an irrevocable breakdown of the marriage or irreconcilable differences. However, if citing fault can help you get a better settlement, some states allow you to do so. Faults in marriages include but are not limited to adultery, physical & mental abuse, and abandonment. In such divorces, you must present evidence, and it often makes the divorces lengthy and costly. If you are not sure about the best course of action, please consult your attorney before preparing the paperwork.

Where to File Divorce Papers

The divorce proceedings will take place at the statutory level. Even so, you must be careful with how you go about filling and filing the forms. Mistakes made at this point can affect the outcome of the case. If you have any doubts, consult your attorney, and ensure you do not end up suffering the brunt of your errors. 

You need to first fill out the court forms available on the state website. Some courts also require that you fill out some local forms, and you can confirm this by checking with the local court clerk. 

Once you have prepared copies of all the forms, you can file them in your state's superior or circuit court. You should check how much you will pay to file the papers and if you are eligible for a fee waiver.

Asking for Temporary Orders

Court processes take a lot of time to come to completion. Often, couples wait months or even years to get their divorces finalized. If you have pending issues such as spousal and child support, it is not possible to wait this long in limbo. The court understands that this would not be an ideal situation and allows you to file temporary orders.

These are court decisions that cater to both your needs until the divorce is final. To grant these orders, the court holds a hearing during which you and your spouse present your arguments. The court then rules on the case and you and your spouse must follow the judgment unless the court amends its decision.

For example, if your spouse is the breadwinner, you can request the court that your spouse keeps paying child and spousal support. If the court rules in your favor, you can get the funds, enabling you to retain the status quo. Temporary property restraining orders are also common. They bar spouses from disposing of marital property during the divorce processes until the court finalizes the divorce.

Suppose you have already filed a petition but did not include temporary orders; they might be worth a second look.

Serve Your Spouse and Wait for a Response

Service: the Filing Spouse's Responsibility

Per the law, you must inform your spouse that you have initiated a divorce by serving them with copies of the court papers. Please note that this is a prerequisite to court hearings. Without serving your spouse with the divorce papers and subsequently informing the court of the same, the divorce cannot move forward.

You cannot serve your spouse. However, anyone over 18 years old can deliver the copies to your spouse. You are also free to hire your relative or friend if you wish. In cases of physical abuse, you may want to use the police to serve the papers. Also, if your spouse wants to frustrate you and has proven elusive, you can get a professional process server to deliver the documents. Where your spouse is already aware of the divorce and has contracted an attorney, you can have the server deliver the copies to your spouse's attorney.

Please note that if you cannot prove the service to the court or do not serve your spouse correctly, the case cannot continue.

Response: the Receiving Spouse's Responsibility

As the receiving spouse, you need to file an answer or a reply to the petition. On the papers, you will see how much time you have left to contact the court. Please note that if this time lapses, a default judgment can take place, which is often disadvantageous to the receiving spouse. If you want to reverse it, not only can it be complex, but it can also be costly.

Instead of risking such an outcome, you are better off contacting the court as soon as you can. With the help of your lawyer, you can draft defenses against allegations in a fault divorce. Additionally, you can look at whether the proposed support, custody and property division terms are fair.

Filing for Divorce State-by-state Laws

Different states have different rules on divorce petitions. Understanding what applies in your state can make it easier to navigate the process and avoid costly and time-consuming errors. You need to know how you must fill out and file the petition, serve your spouse, and communicate with the responsible court.

Get Legal Help Filing and Serving Divorce Papers

Even if you and your spouse are on the same page with the divorce, you might still need legal help. An experienced attorney can help you review the proposed settlement and determine the best outcome for you. Plus, they can also help you with navigating state-specific filing guidelines. It is better to spend some extra cash now than to end up with a judgment that takes money out of your pocket for life.