How To Start the Divorce Process: Step-by-Step

By Divorce.com staff
Updated Oct 04, 2022


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How Long Does a Divorce Take

No one wants their relationship to end, but sometimes things just don’t work out. If you’re looking to begin the divorce process, you may have some questions about the steps you need to take to file your case. Every situation is different, so your steps might look slightly different from others.

Additionally, hiring a divorce attorney and going through the legal process in court can take a long time and be quite expensive. So, many couples are looking into alternative methods for their divorce (ex: divorce mediation). Keep reading to learn how you can file for divorce and the best method for your situation.

How Long Does a Divorce Take

Overview: 8 Steps To Start the Divorce Process

You’ll need to take several steps before your divorce is final. The process could also take longer than expected if you fill out your divorce forms incorrectly or your spouse doesn’t respond to the court summons.

  1. File the petition
  2. Answer the petition
  3. Gather additional information
  4. Request temporary court orders
  5. File proof of service
  6. Attempt mediation
  7. Only go to trial if necessary
  8. Finalize the outcome
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File the Petition

First, you or your spouse must file a petition with the court. If your partner still wishes to reconcile and doesn’t want to file, but you’ve decided, you can proceed without them. Only one person needs to file a petition for divorce with the court.

Before submitting, ensure you’ve included all of the necessary information in your petition to avoid delays in processing. Below, we’ll cover everything you’ll need to include in your divorce petition when you file with the clerk’s office.

Residency Requirements

First, you’ll need a statement proving either you or your spouse meets your local residency requirements. In most states, to be eligible to file, one of you needs to have been living in the state for three to 12 months. On top of that, one of you needs to have been living in the county you wish to file in for at least ten days.

If you or your spouse don’t meet the residency requirements, you won’t be able to file your petition for divorce. You’ll have to wait and attempt to file again after the proper amount of time has passed.

The Reason for Divorce

You’ll also need to cite the reason for divorce. All states recognize no-fault divorce, meaning you don’t have to provide a reason if you file this way.

You can simply state the marriage has broken down, and there is no hope of reconciliation. If you live in a state that recognizes fault-based divorces, you must provide a reason for filing. This method of filing is more complex, and you may need a divorce lawyer or attorney to help you meet the burden of proof.

Commonly cited reasons for at-fault divorces include:

  • Adultery
  • Cruelty
  • Impotence
  • Infertility
  • Prison sentence
  • Mentally incapacitated

If you file using the fault-based method, you’ll need to prove that any of the above is true. The judge may not grant your divorce if you cannot prove your claims.

Other Information You Need

You’ll also need to include some other information in your petition. Please note that the exact format of court forms varies by state.

  • You and your spouse’s name and address
  • The day your marriage was formalized
  • The address of the venue you were married in
  • The information of any minor children
  • Residency requirement proof
  • Reason for divorce
  • Spell out how you want to handle property division, child custody, spousal support, child support, etc.

If any of the information in your petition is incorrect or missing, your divorce papers likely won’t be accepted, and you’ll need to re-file with the correct information.

Answer the Petition

If you’re the filing spouse, your partner is the respondent and will need to provide a reply within a specified timeframe. If they don’t reply within the timeframe required in your state, you can file for a dissolution of marriage without their involvement.

If they don’t acknowledge the petition, the respondent also loses their ability to have a say in any issues like child support, alimony, child custody, and the division of marital property. The judge will issue a ruling without them present.

Gather Additional Information

There is also some additional information you should have ready to present.

Important information to have ready includes:

  • Income tax returns
  • Proof of income
  • Credit card, bank account, and retirement account statements
  • Other account statements reflecting debt

These pieces of documentation will come up as you get further into the process, so make sure you have them before you need them.

Request Temporary Court Orders

Perhaps you’re not able to wait for certain issues to be addressed while you wait for your divorce forms to be processed. This is true in many cases, and judges can issue temporary orders that will hold until they issue their final ruling at trial. At that point, any temporary orders would be considered null and void.

If you’re having financial problems, need spousal support, or have minor children involved and need to address child custody, the judge can help you straighten those issues out. This process won’t take long and is handled as quickly as possible to ensure both parties and any children involved are in an ideal situation they can be in.

File Proof of Service

Proof of service document informs the court that your spouse has been served with the petition for divorce. If you fail to have your spouse served properly and present this document to the court, the judge will not proceed with your case.

You’ll need to hire a process server, someone who is 18 or older and has no ties to your divorce. You cannot deliver the paperwork yourself. You could seek the help of a friend or family member or even your local county sheriff.

If your spouse is giving you a difficult time, and your process server can’t find them to deliver the papers, you can hire professional help. There are professionals who specialize in locating people who are difficult to find, and they typically work much faster than the police department.

Attempt Mediation

Divorce mediation could be the way to go if you’re looking to settle outside of court. Mediation is typically a much faster process because there is no waiting period for a court date and no lengthy litigation process. Mediation is great for couples on good terms and willing to sit down to discuss their issues together.

A neutral third party will act as the mediator (they don’t need to be a lawyer), and they can help guide you to reaching a settlement agreement on your own terms. A mediator cannot give legal advice and won’t be making any final determinations as a judge would. That part is up to you and your spouse.

Only Go to Trial If Necessary

Taking a divorce case to trial will be more costly in the long run since you and your spouse must hire your divorce attorneys and go through a lengthy litigation process. The longer it takes to resolve in court, the more you pay attorney fees.

This could be especially difficult if you have minor children or are in a bind due to no longer having the financial support of your spouse. Not to mention, in a court of law, the judge has the final say. So if you don’t agree with their ruling, you’ll have to file an appeal, but there will be a waiting period. In the meantime, you would have to adhere to the terms of the divorce judgment.

Finalize the Outcome

The last step is finalizing the terms of the divorce. If you and your spouse can reach a settlement agreement outside of court, you’ll settle these terms amongst yourselves. Issues like how much parenting time you each get and who gets what in terms of marital property can be finalized with the guidance of your mediator.

If you and your spouse settle in court, there will sometimes be a settlement conference to help you reach an agreement. You’ll each need to have your divorce attorneys with you to tie up any loose ends regarding child custody, division of property, or similar issues. After everything is resolved, the judge will issue their final divorce judgment.

Learn about divorce online with Divorce.com

Final Thoughts

Divorce isn’t easy, so we won’t make it harder on you. No matter the issues you’re facing, we want to help connect you with the resources you need to make the divorce process as seamless as possible. Let’s set up a call today.

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