Filing for Divorce

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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If you are considering filing for divorce, you will need to file an official petition for dissolution of marriage.  A petition for dissolution of marriage is an official form filed by a divorcing party to begin the process by which a couple ends a marriage.  Before you take steps to file for divorce, it is important to understand how and where to file a petition for divorce, and what to expect after doing so.  If you have any questions, it is a good idea to consult an experienced divorce attorney before you take any legal action.

The Petition

The party who files the petition is called the petitioner. The petition document must contain a statement that the marriage is irretrievably broken and there is no reasonable prospect of reconciliation. If there are statutory conciliation or counseling requirements that must be met before the paperwork is filed, the petitioner must state whether those requirements, if applicable, have been met.

A typical petition is made under oath and contains identifying information, including the names, social security numbers, birth dates and addresses of the parties to the marriage and any minor children of the marriage, and the date and place of the marriage. In order to satisfy the jurisdictional requirement, the document must set forth the amount of time the parties were domiciled in the state prior to filing.

The petition sets forth a list of all of the property owned by the parties, if any, such as real estate, bank accounts, vehicles, furniture, pensions, etc., and the manner in which the property should be divided between the parties. All of the debts incurred during the marriage, if any, are detailed, and responsibility for those debts is apportioned between the parties.

If the petitioner is seeking spousal support, the amount of support sought and the reason the party believes she is entitled to spousal support is set forth in the petition. If there are any minor children of the marriage, the petitioner’s position on child custody, visitation, child support and related issues are detailed in the filing.

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Where to File

You can file wherever you are a resident, meaning, wherever you live. This doesn’t have to be the city, town or even the state where you got married. As long as you meet the residency requirements for the court you wish to file in, you are eligible to file there. In order for your petition to be successful, you will, of course, have to meet other requirements such as that court’s rules regarding grounds for divorce.

Go to the local civil courthouse and locate the office for family law. In some cases, the clerk of courts office will be able to take your initial application for a divorce, while in other cases you may need to find a specific person at the family law court who will take your divorce paperwork and begin the process. Determine what paperwork you need in that court to file for your divorce, and you can advance to the next step by filing your motion and having your spouse served with papers.


The party who is served with the petition is called the respondent. If the respondent does not contest the dissolution and agrees with the statements and provisions contained in the petition, he need not respond and the dissolution will usually be granted by default. If there is a default, the court will issue an order granting the petitioner everything requested.

However, if the respondent disagrees with any of the statements or provisions made in the petition, the divorce is contested and the respondent must file a form, generally known as a Response to Petition for Dissolution of Marriage. The response must be filed within a certain amount of time after the respondent is served, e.g., 20 days, or the respondent will be in default and the petition granted.

A typical response is made under oath and sets forth the manner in which the respondent thinks the property of the marriage should be divided and debts allocated, and may also set forth any issues that were not addressed in the petition. If there are minor children, the response will be more detailed and will address custody, visitation and child support issues.

After Filing The Petition

After the petition and response are filed, a waiting period begins in most states. The parties are expected to come to an agreement regarding any disputes, using negotiation, mediation, or other methods.

If the parties don’t agree on some of the issues, a hearing will be scheduled and a judge will make a decision on the contested issues. In preparing for the hearing, the parties must gather all of the evidence that they plan to use in court to support their case and persuade the judge to rule in their favor.

Evidence may include both documents and live witnesses. In ruling on child custody and visitation issues, the judge will generally make such a decision based on the best interests of the child standard. Once all of the evidence has been presented, the judge will issue a decision which the parties must follow. The judge incorporates any agreements made by the parties into the decision, and the final document which the parties must follow becomes the divorce decree or the divorce judgment.

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Getting Help

The logistical process of a divorce can be very difficult. It is much harder than the process of getting married in the first place. You should strongly consider hiring a lawyer to assist you in handling all of the paperwork and other legal requirements involved in ending your marriage.

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