How Do I File for Divorce?
The less you know about how divorce works, the more intimidating the process will seem to you.
Filing for divorce is a foreign and confusing process with a number of steps that you’ll need to complete.
You’ll need to fill out certain forms, serve divorce papers on your spouse, and file paperwork with the court.
To make matters worse, these forms are anything but straightforward – and mistakes can be costly.
How to File for Divorce in My State
Keep in mind that divorce is governed by state law.
And every state has different rules and requirements in terms of the process of getting a divorce.
That’s why we put together a guide to walk you through the process of filing for divorce in your state. Just click on your state below.
- District of Columbia
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
Overview of the Process for Filing for Divorce
Here is a general overview of the basic steps that you’ll need to follow.
Find out where to file.
Generally, there is a residency requirement and you must file in the county where you or your spouse has lived for a certain amount of time.
This can vary, but most in most jurisdictions, it is six months or more.
If you haven’t lived in a county for that long, you may need to first file for separation until you meet minimum residency requirements.
And, for the most part, you’ll need to file in the state where you live, not where you got married.
Decide on what kind of divorce you may want.
There are several divorce process options.
Litigation is the default, but you have other options as well.
How well you are getting along with your spouse may determine whether you will go through a traditional litigated divorce, or if you’ll be able to reach a mutual agreement on various issues, including asset division, custody and alimony issues.
You could work toward a negotiated settlement using mediation or collaborative divorce.
You may be eligible for a summary divorce if you haven’t been married for very long and you don’t have much in the way of assets.
Regardless of the type of divorce you choose, you’ll need to gather information about your assets, bank accounts, real estate, credit cards and personal property so that it can be divided in an equitable manner later on.
Get the appropriate forms, or meet with a lawyer.
Once you have done your homework, it’s time to fill out the appropriate forms for your state/county.
If you are working with a divorce lawyer, they will do much of this work for you.
Working with a lawyer will also shave time off of your divorce (at least in terms of procedure).
Since they do this kind of work all the time, there should not be delays based on procedural mistakes.
Fill out the forms to the best of your ability.
If you do not work with a lawyer, then do the best you can and be sure to be honest when completing the forms.
If you are filing the papers, you will be known as the Petitioner.
If your spouse is filing, then you will be known as the Respondent.
Depending on your situation, you may need to complete forms regarding your property, and if you have minor children, you will also need to complete forms regarding custody and visitation.
Have the forms reviewed and then file your papers with the court.
If you are working with a lawyer, they will review your forms and make sure they are correct.
If not, then county family courts have staff who can review forms for you to make sure they are acceptable.
Once your review is complete, file them with the court.
Be prepared to pay a fee which can be several hundred dollars in some jurisdictions.
Serve your spouse with the filed legal documents.
Once the papers have been filed, your spouse must be formally notified.
You must hire a process server or have a friend or relative who is at least 18 years old do it for you. You cannot serve papers for yourself.
You will need to have the person serving the papers complete a Proof of Service form which will then need to filed with the court.
Negotiate the terms of your divorce with your spouse.
As part of this process, you will both need to disclose your assets and debts through the completion of financial reporting forms which will also be filed with the court.
Both of you will need to be served with financial disclosure forms so that you are both aware and in agreement about which assets and debts you have, and what you’ll be dividing as part of your divorce.
If possible, create a marital settlement agreement with your spouse and file it with the court.
Ideally, you will be able to negotiate and agree with each other about how to fairly divide your assets and assume debts.
If you can do this amicably, with or without the help of an attorney or a mediator, you are almost done.
File your forms, which may also cover child custody and support, asset division and other related matters, with the court.
If you disagree, you will need to go to trial.
When you can’t agree, you’ll need to appear in front of a judge, make your best case for the various sticking points in your divorce, and the judge will then render a decision.
After this has happened, you will receive your judgment notice and your divorce will be final.
How Much Does It Cost to File for Divorce?
The cost to file papers with the court varies from county to county and state to state.
In some jurisdictions the fee may be as little as $100-$150.
In others, it can run more than $400.
In addition to filing with the court, you will also need to pay to have the papers served on your spouse. This is known as proof of service and is normally done by a sheriff’s deputy or by a private process server.
Costs will vary for this as well, running from about $25-$50 to more than $100 in some instances.
The good news is that if you do not have the funds to pay the filing and process fees, you can file a request with the clerk of the court to request that the fees be waived, meaning that you will not have to pay anything.
You will need to complete a waiver request and depending on the jurisdiction, you will also need to provide some forms of proof.
The costs to file for divorce are just one small piece of the total cost of divorce, which can vary greatly.
How Do I File for Divorce on my Own?
Many people choose to file for divorce on their own.
Before you file, the best thing you can do is to research what forms you will need to complete, how much your filing fees will be, and be sure that you meet residency requirements for the jurisdiction where you’re planning to file.
If you’re unsure about the exact steps to follow, you can look into divorce procedures for your county, or you can visit the county courthouse where you’re sure to find helpful staff that will make sure you get the information and the paperwork you need to start the process.
How Can I Get a Quick Divorce?
Another factor beyond your control is that courts often times have backlogs, and even in a simple divorce which must be signed off by a judge, you could see a bit of a delay before this happens.
You can get a quick divorce (in relative terms) if you do several things.
First, determine with your spouse what kind of divorce you will be seeking.
An uncontested divorce where both spouses are in agreement with all the settlement terms will generally only require a quick review by a judge prior to granting a final decree.
Make sure you get all the forms you need for your particular divorce and that they are filled out accurately and completely before you file them.
Missing or wrong information will cause delays and could add weeks or months to the process.
When you file, be sure you bring funds to pay for the filing fees that will be required.
Check with the courts in advance to see how much you will need. If you plan to ask for a waiver, try to do that in advance and have it ready to go when you file as well.
Provide as much information as possible regarding the whereabouts of your spouse so that there will be no delays in serving papers.
Multiple attempts will be made based on the information you provide.
If the spouse can’t be found or does not want to be found, this will also delay the process as well.
If court staff calls you for any reason, be highly responsive to whatever the request entails.
It may be to ask for more information or to schedule a hearing. Don’t put these types of requests off if you want the process to move forward as quickly as possible.
When a hearing is scheduled, be sure to attend it. Not only do you lose certain rights by not attending, but the hearing could be postponed for many weeks until it can be calendared again.
In a few states, the best you can hope for if everything falls into place is for a divorce to take no longer than 60 days from start to finish.
Because of certain laws on the books, other states may take 6 months or longer, no matter what you do.
Just understand that being as responsive as you can is the best way to keep the divorce process as short as possible.
Looking for more great divorce tips? Here are a few of our favorite guides and resources:
- 101 Financial Pitfalls of Divorce
- How to Value the House and Split Home Equity in a Divorce
- The Ultimate Guide to Divorcing a Narcissist
- Want an Amicable Divorce? Try Mediation or Collaborative Divorce
- The Psychological Effects of Divorce on Children
Jason Crowley, CFA, CFP, CDFA is a divorce financial strategist, personal finance expert and entrepreneur. Jason is the managing partner of Divorce Capital Planning, co-founder of Divorce Mortgage Advisors, and founder of Survive Divorce. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.