How to File for Divorce: Understanding the Legal Process

Divorce spelled on a scrabble

Divorce is the legal end to a civil union. There are many different pieces in the steps of how to file for divorce. However, if you follow this guide, then the process should flow smoothly.

If you're in the United States, then you're well aware that every state has different rules and regulations for how to do anything, pretty much. The laws on how to file for divorce are no different.

Nevertheless, every state requires that a judge review and approve the divorce settlement. Conversely, if the two of you cannot agree, then there will be a judgment on how the personal capital and property will be divided between you and your ex. This decision will include who will retain ownership of houses, cars, cats and, yes, even your children.

What it really boils down to is the signed court order from the guy in charge. Until you have that sweet document, you're not home free. Meaning, without that signed piece of paper, you cannot remarry (so be careful in proceeding with any romances until you're truly in the clear.)

The rules that differ in each state include, but are not limited to:

  • How long you must live in that state before you can file for divorce
  • How long you must wait before your divorce can be finalized after you officially file for it
  • And, how the state handles child support and alimony

A Beginner's Guide to Divorce

Man signing a certificate of marriage

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Divorce from Start to Finish

  1. 1
    Before you begin, see if you can identify your ideal outcome
  2. 2
    Consider all important parts of the process
  3. 3
    Get your lawyer
  4. 4
    Think paperwork
  5. 5
    Do you want to have an amicable end?
  6. 6
    Do you want all your worldly possessions divided equally?
  7. 7
    Should you be considering debt, shared custody, or real estate?

Major Components in How to File For Divorce

Major considerations should include your shared life and assets. What do you want to keep with you or part with during the process of how to get divorced? The car, house, cat, bat, mat and other prized possessions you both worked for all need to be considered seriously. You are being given an opportunity to start over — not completely, but close. What a great time to become a minimalist and leave your lover with the best revenge of all: materialist greed and the feeling they won.

You are more likely to achieve your goals if you write them down. So, jot away. Make a list of what you want and what you do not. This list will help you throughout the process to keep a clear head and not stoop to stealing your ex's favorite stuffed chinchilla when you really do not want or need that wretched thing.

The process of how to file for divorce will be long, and you will see more of your ex than you probably want; additionally, there will be more paperwork than it takes to papier mache a life-sized horse, but you will get through it. So, hang on, hang tight and, hopefully, hang loose as you approach the single life.

Things to Consider

Couple infront of a man

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The list of things to consider is long and laborious. It's literally every object — both real and imagined — in your life. This includes debts, pets and net gains. At the end of this all, you will know better than most couples the price of entry and exit from a relationship. The process of how to file for divorce is one of labor and endurance, so get ready.

Another consideration is your legal standing. You will more than likely need a lawyer to help you through the swamp of divorce paperwork. So you will need to begin looking or make contact with your existing lawyer as soon as possible. Both you and your spouse should have lawyers, separate lawyers.

Above all, you will need to consider the lives of the people you will effect your decision to part ways: mainly, your children (if you have any). These little ones will need more support over the coming months than you probably have to give. You will need to consider shared custody, the weekend visit, daytime phone calls, each child individually, and the overall timeline.

How to File for Divorce

Photo of couple near a certificate of marriage

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Luckily, the old tautological truth holds. You need to start with first things first when deciding how to file for divorce. Figure out where you need to file. There may be specific requirements, depending on the state. There are certain exceptions for same-sex couples, international lovers and the rare emergency.

Time to revisit that list. Discuss with your spouse about what you will divide. It will be helpful to know what you want to do with your real estate, mortgages, bank accounts, loans, personal property and credit card balances before you employ the services of a lawyer.

From that point on, if you are not representing yourself, then the lawyer will be a huge asset for figuring out the specifics of your situation. Prepare yourself, though, because it will be expensive and complex. There truly is not an easy way to decide on how to file for divorce.

It is not highly recommended that you represent yourself unless you know that the process will go smoothly, or you yourself are a divorce lawyer. This is one of those instances where you will not regret using the services of a law office, however expensive it might be.



Next stop: forms. There will be many signatures and long, documents written in legalese to read. So, head down to the local courthouse virtually or in real life. Once there, you will obtain the pile of necessary paperwork.

Included in that stack will be words such as petitioner (you) and respondent (your soon to be ex.) Most likely, you will file a no-fault divorce, so the reason you will list on the forms for cause of divorce will be "irreconcilable differences." As you work your way through on how to file for divorce, you also will fill out forms about property and children. After you finish the forms, have a lawyer review them.


Filing & Notification

After all the forms are filled out and signed, you'll reach the big moment. Go down to the courthouse and file that paperwork with the proper governmental agency. Note: Be sure as you work your way through how to file for divorce, that you keep multiple copies of the forms for both you and your soon to be ex-marital partner.

The next step is optional, but highly recommended. Get a hobby or at least a well-deserved drink. You have just learned and hopefully implemented the first major step in how to file for divorce.

Next, tell your spouse you're leaving just as the court wants you to — by serving him or her with divorce papers. You cannot move this process along until you've done this step. How you do this step reflects on your personal character, not that of your soon-to-be ex. So, rather than asking a friend to ding-dong ditch your lover or delivering the papers via singing telegram, you might want to show some respect for the relationship you once shared and do this task in a decent manner.

Once this is done, then you'll need to fill out a declaration of disclosure form. This can include taxes and more forms. But not to worry, there is always another form, so you won't get out of practice with that signature of yours!

Next, you will need to serve your spouse the financial disclosure forms, which represents an agreement regarding all your debts. Yes, that includes their maxed-out credit card from college you didn't know about until last week. This, unfortunately, is also a part of how to file for divorce.


Final Document

If you thought you would see less of your soon-to-be ex as you went through all these steps, then you were wrong! At this point in the process of how to file for divorce, it's time to write up an agreement with your spouse. Signed, extensive, all-encompassing and notarized this document must be.

Last, you'll receive your judgment. The court will send you a judgment notice, letting you know about your attempt to divorce. There may be additional steps the court demands of you, including changes to the agreement.


Divorce agreement on a paper

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Marriage is a serious endeavor and divorce is even more so. The breaking apart of a union between those closest to each other requires a great deal of strength.

The best advice on how to file for divorce? It begins and ends with taking care so you make the process as painless as possible for all parties. Follow the steps on this list closely and the advice of lawyers.

Every ending eventually will have a new beginning. It's times like these when old truths hold true and clichés actually bring you some modicum of comfort. So, find yourself a song to sing and a new leaf to turn. You have just finished learning how to file for divorce.

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