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The Basic Steps To Filing for Divorce

Learning how to file for divorce requires open communication, diplomacy, and a firm knowledge of the laws where you live.

Filing For Divorce

There’s an old expression: “Marriage is grand. Divorce is 50 grand.”  If you’ve truly done everything you can to save your marriage, including open communication, couples therapy, reading books, and trying to compromise, your marriage might well and truly be dead and you’ll have to file for divorce.

Filing for divorce depends primarily on where you live. In the U.S., for example, divorce is governed by each state individually, rather than federally. This means that someone in Alabama would have different laws than someone in New York.

For this reason, this article can only cover some of the basics of what to think about, but can never replace actual legal advice, as everyone’s legal situation is different.

Do You Need a Lawyer to Get a Divorce?

No one likes giving money to lawyers. In the case of divorce, however, your entire future could depend on how you file divorce papers and arrange your assets.

It’s not uncommon for one spouse to become incredibly vindictive. This might include stealing or hiding money, accusing the other of abuse or infidelity to gain a bigger settlement, and any and all types of manipulating with regards to children.

While you might believe in your heart that your spouse was your spouse for a reason and that they’d never stoop to things like that, it’s still best to protect yourself.

Do You Have to Establish Grounds For Divorce?

In the U.S., divorce can fall into one of two categories: fault and no-fault. A spouse can be at-fault if their actions directly lead to the divorce. This can be acts such as abuse (any type), adultery, or abandonment.

No-fault is generally described as ‘irreconcilable differences’. Both partners have tried their best to make the marriage work, and for whatever reason they simply cannot.

Your attorney will be able to tell you what your specific situation falls under if this applies where you live.

What About Legal Separation?

Legal separation is an agreement between spouses where they live separately. This can be done legally in the form of a court order, where arrangements regarding things like taking care of the children and financial support are written out officially, or informally via an agreement between the two parties.

A legal separation usually leads to divorce, but doesn’t automatically. Sometimes a separation is enough to help the couple to reconcile.

If both people decide to file divorce papers, then it becomes the same process as everyone else’s – the fact of the legal separation is irrelevant.

Discuss The Situation and Come Up With an Outcome for Both of You

If you’re not in a heated legal battle, try to have some civil discussions about how the divorce should proceed. Think about:

  • Assets – should you sell the house or have one person keep it? Whose names are your cars in?  Which one of you will move out?
  • Debts – Who is legally responsible for your debts?  How will you handle paying them off?
  • Family – How will you tell your friends and family?  Do any arrangements have to be made?
  • Children – The hardest of all, start thinking about how you can both make this transition as easy as possible for your kids.
  • Pets – You can split your savings evenly, but you can’t divide a pet. Did one of you take care of your pet more than the other?  Try to be fair – if you find yourself wanting to take something just so your spouse can’t have it, you’re falling into a spiral of anger and bitterness that will make how you file for divorce that much more difficult.

Is Your Divorce Contested or Uncontested?

If you can come up with a good solution to the above issues, you can hopefully proceed with an uncontested divorce. Uncontested means you both agree to the terms and are now responsible with just paperwork.

If you can’t agree on things like splitting assets or custody of children, you’ll need to each hire a lawyer and begin negotiations.

Ask Your Attorney the Right Questions

Depending on where you live, you may have to deal with things like residency laws and immigration issues. There’s no automatic right answer, and it’s these smaller issues that can trip you up when figuring out how to file for divorce.

So the trick here is not only asking your attorney the right questions, but to make sure you have an attorney who will tell YOU what the right questions are.

Where to File For Divorce

You’re now ready to file your divorce papers. Either your lawyer can file them and, if necessary, present them to your spouse, or you can file them in court. You’ll probably have to fill out other forms and pay a fee.

Again, your attorney will be able to give you more specific information about cost based on where you live. From this point on you’re largely in the hands of the legal system where you live.

How to File for Divorce With Kids

Typically when you file for divorce and it’s uncontested, the parent keeping custody of the children will indicate this is the case when they file. You would also explain to the court that you want to arrange for alimony payments to be made.

If the divorce is contested then you’ll have to explain that a decision can’t be reached for custody and your lawyers and the court will help come to a conclusion.

What If I Don’t Want to Use an Attorney?

Of course you and your spouse could file for divorce without an attorney. If the relationship came to a natural end, you both consider each other friends, and you both truly believe you can part amicably, you may be able to file for divorce on your own.

When filing for divorce with kids, however, using an attorney is always recommended. Separating a parent from their child is often too emotional and traumatic to do in a calm, rational way, and having a professional to ensure your kids are taken care of properly is a very good decision to make. [Read – 10 Negative Effects of Divorce on Children]

The last thing you want is for some minor detail to screw your kid out of his college fund.

Getting On With It

If you’re still sure divorce is inevitable, it’s time to get on with it. Find an attorney who has some recommendations or try to do it on your own.

Gather necessary document and learn all about specific laws in your area. It’s going to be a long and painful process, but your new life is about to start, and that at least is something to look forward to.


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