How to Get Divorced: Things to Consider and Steps to Take When Filing for Divorce

Chelsy Meyer  | 

Making the decision to file for divorce can be difficult, and obtaining one isn’t exactly a walk in the park either. Beginning the steps towards divorce are an important part in the sometimes lengthy process of divorce proceedings. With something so complicated and emotional, it can be difficult to know where to start. It’s important to know what to consider and the steps you’ll need to take in order to get the ball rolling.

Since each state has different laws, and each situation is different, it’s hard to have exact information that will be true for everyone. However, no matter your circumstances or location, be prepared for a lengthy legal process in order to be granted a divorce from your spouse.

Before You File for Divorce

Before you file for divorce there are some details you should consider and be aware of. Knowing how much a divorce will cost and how long it will take are important aspects to prepare for. Not necessarily as a deterrent, but as a variable to consider for your next few years. There are details to iron out and documents to obtain before filing that will make things go smoothly at the beginning of the process.

Find Out Where to File

Where to file for divorce does not depend on where you got married, but where you live now and how long you’ve lived there. I’ve you’ve lived in the same place for six months or more, you should be able to file there regardless of where your spouse lives. If you’ve lived somewhere for less than six months, you may have to file for separation first, and then file for divorce once you’ve lived there for six months.

Where you file for divorce will decide many of the particulars of the proceedings. Each state, county, and/or district has its own laws and stipulations. You’ll need to look up the information in your particular area in regards to which court office will handle your divorce. Some counties have a family court designated, others don’t, so you’ll need to do some of your own homework first.

Prepare Documentation

Getting a divorce is expensive, and getting a divorce when you are struggling with money is even more difficult. It’s more cost-effective not to hire a lawyer in the short-term sense, but might not be in the long-term.

Having a lawyer will be immensely helpful throughout the process, especially if you and your spouse are not on the best terms. When meeting your lawyer and filing the paperwork, you’ll need certain documentation. This includes marriage documents, real estate documents, bank account information, information on valuable personal property, mortgage information, loan documents, and credit card information, among others. If you have children, you’ll need more information, but your lawyer will be able to tell you exactly what you need. Having all of these items together will help the process move along.

Living Separately Before Getting a Divorce

If you’re going to live separately before getting a divorce, it might be in the best interest of everyone involved to obtain a legal separation agreement. This is basically a way to mitigate some financial risk. This is an agreement between you and your spouse that you will resolve the division of assets, spousal support, child support, etc.

Some couples decide to live separately informally, but the risk there is that you’re not protected from any financial stresses your spouse may accumulate in that time. Divorce in itself isn’t bad for your credit, but the risk is in this time when you aren’t protected. You’re still legally together, yet living apart, and your spouse still has access to all of your financials — it’s a dangerous place to be for many couples.

Filing Your Divorce Petition

As the person filing for divorce, you’re the petitioner and your spouse is considered the respondent. You can find the divorce petition paperwork online or at the courthouse of your divorce location. This paperwork is really the first big step in moving the divorce forward. Once you’ve decided that you need a divorce, this step in filling out the paperwork is paramount.

What Goes Into Your Divorce Petition

Your divorce petition will outline many aspects of the divorce and what you want out of it. This is where you declare exactly what you’re looking for in your divorce and why. It should include the type of divorce you are requesting, such as fault, no-fault, uncontested, collaborative, summary, etc. You’ll fill out information about who should take ownership of shared property, custody of your children, and management of other assets. Having your lawyer or a family law facilitator help with this paperwork is a good idea so you aren’t filing incorrectly. Your petition won’t need to get into exact numbers, figures, and specific custody agreements you’re requesting, but they will need you to lay some groundwork.

Serving Your Spouse With Divorce Papers

After your petition is filled out and reviewed, you’ll want to file at the court your area specifies. Make copies and be prepared to pay a fee. If you can’t afford the fee, you might be able to ask for a fee waiver, which varies by location.

Now, you’ll need to have the papers served to your spouse. You can have a professional serve them, or a friend, or in some cases where domestic violence is involved in divorce, a police officer will serve the papers without a fee. Be sure to check with your options locally. Your spouse now has the opportunity to answer the petition within its deadline. If they disagree with the terms, they are now able to get their own lawyer and answer with their own terms.

Make a Declaration of Disclosure

After filing your petition, both you and your spouse must disclose your financial information and file it with the court. Which forms you fill out should be discussed between you and your lawyer depending on your financial situation. This will include assets and tax information. Your spouse should also be served with financial disclosure forms so that you’re in agreement about assets and how they will be divided between you. Make copies and make sure your financial situation is accurately depicted in these documents if you have some sort of change in your financial standing.

Counterclaims and Defendant’s Affidavit

Some people are able to get a divorce that is fairly amicable between both parties. That is not the case for everyone. Once your partner is served with a divorce petition, they are then able to respond by agreeing, disagreeing, or filing a counterclaim. In many states they are given the option to file an appearance. This tells the court they are neither contesting or agreeing, but want to be involved in asset decisions. They can file denying your grounds for divorce or contesting your requests for assets or custody. Lastly, they can file a counterclaim which is their own petition for divorce. Depending on their response, you might have a long process of mediation on your hands.If they sign a defendant’s affidavit, that means they agree to the divorce and do not argue with anything being asked for.

Answering the question of how to get divorced isn’t easy. The variables in each location, marriage, family size, and financial standing make each divorce it’s own unique situation. What you should consider is that it will be complicated. It’s not normally a quick process, though having fewer assets or no children does make the process easier. You should know where to file, collect your paperwork, talk to a lawyer, file your paperwork, wait for their response, and file more paperwork. There are many channels to go through, but it has to be done. The process might be difficult in many ways, but being prepared and knowing what to expect might make things a little easier.


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Chelsy is a writer from Montana who now lives in Boise, Idaho. She graduated with her journalism degree from the University of Montana in 2012. She enjoys talk radio, cold coffee, and playing Frisbee with her dog, Titan. Follow Chelsy on Twitter @Chelsy5

This post was updated March 6, 2018. It was originally published March 7, 2018.