How to Get a Divorce: Process, Stages and Required Papers 

Getting married is a straightforward process that people enter with optimism and happiness. But undoing that bond can be a headache. It’s helpful to know how to navigate the divorce process, whether for yourself or a friend. Divorce allows a couple to go their separate ways with an equitable distribution of assets gained during the marriage. Yet it’s never that simple, as emotions play a big role in interpreting what’s fair.

Judges are involved in divorce to apply laws that pertain to the division of assets and care of children. In the majority of cases, they simply look over your divorce papers (settlement agreement) and approve them. Keep your divorce records even after the process is over. These will be important to refer to in the future when one person wants to renegotiate support or when you seek to remarry. Consulting with a divorce lawyer or divorce attorney can help ensure a smoother process, especially when navigating the stages of divorce and dealing with divorce court appearances if necessary.

Stages of Divorce

The divorce process can be emotional and complex and the length of the divorce process depends on several factors. If a couple agrees upon divorce and can settle their jointly-owned assets and debts with a written agreement, it’s possible to shorten the time significantly – they may not even need a court hearing in some states. If a couple doesn’t agree on divorce, the divorce process begins when individual inquiries for the right divorce papers at the courthouse where the couple was married or where they reside. A clerk will provide the necessary paperwork and instructions.

Here's a breakdown of some key steps, incorporating the divorce papers, divorce court, and divorce lawyer considerations:

Filing the Petition for Divorce

Divorce begins with a petition, which is a legal request to start the process. Only one-half of the couples divorcing need to fill it out, but after it is filed at the family court or county probate office, the following process must be followed:

  1. The divorce petition must be served on the person’s partner. The clerk’s office will provide instructions and sometimes phone numbers for constables who are qualified to serve divorce papers.
  2. When the constable finds the spouse and gets the divorce papers signed, the constable will fill out the form telling the probate office that the divorce process is underway.
  3. The divorce papers may be returned to the person seeking the divorce. In this case it is the petitioner (who started the process) who must file the constable’s document at the court probate office.

Ask for Temporary Judgments

Temporary orders are requests for immediate action, sought at the time of the divorce petition, which provides financial stability for one of the people involved. If you have an attorney, a divorce lawyer, ask for a divorce settlement calculation at this time so you can start planning on a new life with different finances after divorcing. These temporary judgments are legally enforceable restraints on things like:

  1. Bank account activity in jointly held accounts: one person may not drain joint accounts for their own purposes once a divorce action is filed.
  2. Child support and custody may be instituted immediately so that a couple’s offspring may continue going to the same school and maintain their standard of living.
  3. Mortgage, rent, and other jointly-paid obligations must be maintained as usual during a divorce action.
  4. Vehicles, homes, and other assets may not be sold to benefit one partner during the preliminary filing phase of a divorce action.

Put the Proof of Service in File

Documentation of all aspects of a divorce is very important. Keep copies of all divorce papers, including proof that the petition was filed, along with detailed financial notes showing all expenses and payments on joint accounts, for reference during the divorce process.

How To Get Divorced

Engage in Settlement Negotiations

The court mandates that couples attempt to settle items in a divorce amicably and bring that agreement forward for the judge to approve. In general, such an agreement includes:

  • Equal division of bank accounts.
  • Sales of jointly owned properties and an equal (or equitable) division of proceeds.
  • Child custody or pet custody and visitation.

A couple may agree to exclude certain items from divorce proceedings, such as a classic car owned by one partner prior to the marriage or items passed down through generations. Get everything in writing. The court will go through each person’s accounts to ensure a fair distribution of assets according to the laws of the state where the divorce is filed.

Go to Trial

This is one of the final stages of divorce. Not every divorce goes to trial. The majority is settled by agreement between the parties, and the agreement is reviewed and approved by a judge in divorce court.

Divorces that go to trial are decided by a judge, not a jury (called a bench trial). In this situation, the judge may decide all or part of the case, such as when a couple agrees on the settlement of assets but can’t agree on child support and custody.

Make the Final Decision

Divorce usually requires a waiting period before it’s final. Each state has its own law, which sets the period from a few days to several months. If the couple somehow reconciles during this period, they may petition the court to strike a divorce and get back together.

Each party has the right to appeal a judge’s decision on their divorce. If one person’s circumstances change significantly during the divorce process, which can take years, they may seek to change the agreement. For instance, if the non-custodial parent gets remarried and has a stable job, they may appeal the custody or child support portion of the divorce decree to make changes.

How to File for Divorce?

Filing for divorce involves several important steps that vary depending on the state in which you reside. Here's a general overview of the process:

How to file for divorce in Alabama

The state offers do-it-yourself divorce papers online but little other guidance on navigating the process. Ask the local family court clerk’s office for more information, or contact the state bar association for help.

How to file for divorce in Alaska

First, decide if the case will be a dissolution, which is a streamlined process in which the couple agrees on the terms. A divorce is an option when one person doesn’t want to divorce. Alaska also allows divorce by default when one person doesn’t respond to the divorce petition. The Family Law Self-Help Center provides information on the divorce process.

How to file for divorce in Arizona

First, find the right forms (divorce with minor children or divorce without minor children). The state offers no-fault divorce, which means nobody has to prove that the other did anything wrong, even those who are in a “covenant marriage.”(Divorce and Legal Separation in Arizona)

How to file for divorce in Arkansas

The state is an at-fault divorce state, which requires the petitioner to choose from a list of reasons why they’re seeking to dissolve a marriage, including separation that has lasted at least two years, the spouse committed a felony, the spouse is abusive, or the spouse has committed adultery. The nonprofit Arkansas Law Help organization provides free information by phone or online.

How to file for divorce in California

You must be a resident of a particular county for at least three months and a state resident for six months. The state uses no-fault divorce (there’s no need to provide proof anyone did anything wrong), and there is a six-month waiting period before it’s finalized. Be sure to gather your divorce papers in California and hold onto them for any future appeals of the judge’s decision.

How to file for divorce in Colorado

Follow the step-by-step instructions available online. The state allows online filing of divorce papers, and registered domestic partners may dissolve their unions under certain circumstances.

How to file for divorce in Connecticut

Learn residency requirements and about the state’s 90-day waiting period. They require parenting seminars for those with young children and provide instructions for filing even if your spouse is in the military and their location is unknown.

How to file for divorce in Delaware

First, you must qualify by being separated for at least six months and as state residents. The state offers annulment as well as divorce and requires parenting classes for those with minor children.

How to file for divorce in Florida

There’s a 30-day simplified divorce process for couples who agree on terms, do not have dependent children, and have no alimony involved. Otherwise, contact the local court clerk’s office for information on the state’s four types of divorce.

How to file for divorce in Georgia

If you’ve been a resident of the state for at least six months, divorce papers are either a complaint for divorce or a petition for divorce and are filed at the superior court in your county. The state provides videos to guide you through the divorce process.

How to file for divorce in Hawaii

The state uses a family court and provides phone numbers as well as some free legal advice to assist those filing on pages. Either party can file in Hawaii as long as they meet residency requirements.

How to file for divorce in Indiana

If you can’t afford a divorce attorney, check the state’s website for information on filing for divorce. They also provide opportunities to ask specific questions about the divorce process. The official state website does not provide forms but has information on how to write a divorce petition of your own. You’ll need to find out how to verify your petition before it can be filed (provide proof of the marriage).

How to file for divorce in Illinois

First, you must have 90 days of residency in the state before you can file. Each county sets its own fees for filing. The state's official website provides basic information, including the definition of moving forward with an agreement in place. This is the form to use if you can’t pay attorney fees, and you should use this page to complete a financial affidavit, which is required in divorce cases.

How to file for divorce in Idaho

The fastest and easiest way is to make a sworn stipulation, which is an agreement between the spouses to divide their property and assets without a trial. Otherwise, the state website provides each form and step-by-step instructions for a self-service process.

How to file for divorce in Iowa

The state uses an online process to walk you through the process of filing a petition for divorce or preparing a settlement in cooperation with your spouse. The state helps couples with young children (married or unmarried) to arrange child custody and support.

How to file for divorce in Kansas

The state’s residency requirement is a short 60 days, and there is online divorce paperwork available. However, the state judiciary advises that the process can be complicated and doing it yourself without the guidance of an attorney may hurt your case. The state bar association may offer opportunities for free legal advice. If you have dependent children, you will need to complete the parenting plan form.

How to file for divorce in Kentucky

If you or your spouse has been a resident of the state for 180 days, you are eligible to divorce in Kentucky. The state offers a simplified, guided process online, but it’s not for people with dependent children. There’s a 60-day waiting period before a divorce can be granted for those with children. For legal help, contact a legitimate organization in your area.

How to file for divorce in Louisiana

First, your marriage must fall within one of the definitions allowed by the state (such as common law marriage from another state) or same-sex marriage after 2015. Traditional marriages (with or without children) are defined by category, whether 102 or 103. Divorces involving children have waiting periods of up to one year before they take effect, but that depends on any separation period before the divorce petition. For legal help, contact the self-help center.

How to file for divorce in Massachusetts

You must be a resident for at least a year. Follow the prompts to find out if you want to file for no-fault divorce or “fault” divorce. The easiest option available is the 1A No Fault Divorce, which can only be filed if the couple creates an agreement.

How to file for divorce in Maine

The residency requirement is minimal, and it allows for a Maine divorce even if one spouse is a resident. If a couple has children and is not married, the state can also set up custody and visitation arrangements, just like in a divorce. There is a 60-day waiting period between filing the documents and the final determination.

How to file for divorce in Maryland

Both parties in a divorce must complete a financial statement when the divorce petition is filed. The state allows e-filing (except for residents of Baltimore County) as long as you have a credit card on which to charge fees. If one spouse is concerned about domestic violence or retaliation, they may omit their home address on the divorce papers. Volunteers provide free legal advice.

How to file for divorce in Michigan

The state judiciary has created a series of videos that explain the divorce process and steps to filing the necessary paperwork. This resource provides information about getting legal help, including getting divorced if you are in a common-law marriage from another state.

How to file for divorce in Minnesota

The state takes some of the work out of filing paperwork with its fillable forms online. This is a step-by-step process for divorce. They also offer help getting a mediator to settle without a trial and suggest seeking legal help if one or both spouses own property to ensure it’s divided equitably.

How to file for divorce in Mississippi

If you’ve been a resident of the state for six months, you are eligible for divorce in Mississippi. Some information is available through an online portal, but you may also call your local county court. There are 13 different grounds by which you can apply for an “at fault” divorce, or if you and your spouse agree the marriage is beyond repair, you may seek a no-fault divorce. If there are children involved, a Chancellor (court officer) will consider the best interests of the child and award custody accordingly.

How To Get Divorced

How to file for divorce in Missouri

In this state, a couple must live separately at least one month after filing for divorce, but a simple divorce is quick, with just a 30-day waiting period before it can be finalized. The petition for divorce and form for answering the divorce complaint are available online, along with forms for modifying custody and support arrangements.

How to file for divorce in Montana

First, read the “Introduction to Family Law in Montana” that explains the process and terms used in a divorce. The state uses “parenting” instead of “custody” to emphasize the importance of both adults remaining involved in a child’s life, so a “parenting plan” is required if there are dependent children involved. If a couple agrees on terms of divorce, they can apply for a joint dissolution, which is generally a quick divorce.

How to file for divorce in Nebraska

Start by finding the right forms. Rather than a petition for divorce, Nebraska calls divorce papers a “complaint for dissolution.” The state provides a helpful script to use in your divorce hearing if you are self-represented (without an attorney).

How to file for divorce in Nevada

The state requires all paperwork to be filed online, so all forms, instructions, and other information needed are on the website of the county court where you reside. Note that in Nevada, a court “master” is the same as a magistrate, a trained legal professional similar to a judge who has authority over cases in a particular court. The information on “The Family Law Self Help Center” offers step-by-step instructions for anyone who does not have an attorney.

How to file for divorce in New Hampshire

Divorce here can be quick, as little as two or three months if everyone agrees on the terms of divorce. In order to divorce in New Hampshire, both parties should be present in the state, and the petitioner must have one year’s residency. Couples without minor children can file a joint petition, which saves time and money on serving papers.

How to file for divorce in New Jersey

Only one spouse needs to have New Jersey residency for a divorce in the state, but there’s a minimum of one-year residency for a no-fault divorce. New Jersey Legal Services gives a free resource, which explains different scenarios (such as an uncooperative spouse) and provides steps for child support, custody, and other related issues.

How to file for divorce in New Mexico

A divorce in New Mexico starts with one of the spouses filing a petition and necessary papers in a district court. The court may be in the county where either of the spouses lives. Also, one of the spouses must have lived in the State for at least the last six months. Whether you are filing for divorce by yourself or working with an attorney, you can find more information about dissolution of marriage online..

How to file for divorce in New York

There are steps outlined on the New York State Unified Court System website, including information that says you must be a resident of the state for at least a year before a divorce proceeding can be started. If children age 17 or younger are involved, custody and visitation must be settled before the divorce can be granted. Family court handles the alimony/support aspect of the case, but the Supreme Court makes the final decision on divorces.

How to file for divorce in North Carolina

First, you are required to be living separately for at least one year to be eligible for divorce. The separation can be legally documented (with support or other property considerations filed in court) or more casual. The state does not provide a form for a petition for divorce but relies on a sworn statement from one spouse. You may get help with the statement for free by contacting the state bar association.

How to file for divorce in North Dakota

The easiest way is for a couple to file an agreement with the court that covers all aspects of their relationship (without children) and settlement of all jointly owned accounts and debts. This, an uncontested divorce, can be accomplished quickly and without a hearing. The North Dakota Court System provides basic information about the steps involved but warns that court employees cannot provide legal advice.

How to file for divorce in Ohio

First, decide if you’ll have a contested or uncontested divorce (in uncontested cases, the couple presents the court with a legal settlement document that outlines the way they plan to split assets and provide financial support if necessary). Couples with children always have more steps to getting a divorce and getting court approval for custody and support arrangements. If you can’t afford legal advice, ask to speak to a pro bono attorney through the state bar association.

How to file for divorce in Oklahoma

You must contact or visit the clerk’s office at your county court. Oklahoma does not provide forms for divorce actions. For legal assistance, contact this organization, which can even help determine if a common law marriage existed through the actions of the individuals involved. If you have a common law marriage, you can ask a judge to grant a divorce the same way they would if you had a marriage ceremony.

How to file for divorce in Oregon

Start with forms for dissolution (divorce). There is no waiting period to finalize a divorce after the final hearing, but the couple must have at least six months of residency before they’ll be granted a divorce in Oregon. Here, the court may require arbitration in an attempt to settle outstanding issues.

How to file for divorce in Pennsylvania

First, you must understand that you will be held to the same standards as an attorney in court if you choose to represent yourself (without an attorney). An overview of the process is on the Judiciary of Pennsylvania  website, but each divorce is handled at the courthouse in the county where you reside (also called the courts of Common Pleas). There are different steps to take if your spouse agrees to the divorce, if your spouse is abusive, and if your spouse disagrees with a divorce.

How to file for divorce in Rhode Island

Prepare for a long cooling-off period because there’s a 90-day waiting period between the time a judge signs the divorce decree and when it’s final. Some of the divorce paperwork involved can be confusing because it uses the term “divorce from bed and board,” which means legal separation. Along with explaining the terms involved in divorce, the state bar association can provide help finding a low-cost attorney.

How to file for divorce in South Carolina

Find all of the necessary forms in the South Carolina Judicial Department, and remember, if your spouse filed for divorce, you have 30 days to respond. If you want a quick, no-fault divorce, you must have spent a year living separately from your spouse. There are five grounds for divorce, as explained in South Carolina Legal Services video.

How to file for divorce in South Dakota

First, you need to fill out the Case Filing Statement, then a “summons” and a “complaint” form, notarized, including a copy of South Dakota Parenting Guidelines if you have minor children. Follow the steps of “Divorce With Minor Children” to complete the process.

How to file for divorce in Tennessee

The fastest way to get divorced is an “agreed” divorce, which is basically a cooperative settlement between spouses who both want to get divorced, have no minor children, and do not own property together. 

How to file for divorce in Texas

First, you must be a state resident for at least six months. Divorce in Texas can be a simple matter of using forms if you and your spouse agree on everything and do not have children; check for other forms, including divorce with minor children. If you can’t afford an attorney, check the resources for low-cost help. This information should tell you how to file for divorce in Texas.

How to file for divorce in Utah

The state courts provide a helpful “roadmap” of the process, which starts with one spouse filing a petition and a summons. There’s a list of terms, as well as information on child custody, including factors the court considers before awarding custody.

How to file for divorce in Vermont

First, you have to live separately from your spouse for at least six months. A list of documents involved in the process is here, including the final stipulation that each spouse must sign. The state allows couples to seek to shorten the 90-day waiting period (called nisi) before the divorce is final.

How to file for divorce in Virginia

Start by deciding which type of divorce you want: no-fault, contested, or uncontested. You must have at least six month’s residency in the state and have a written settlement agreement with your spouse for a no-fault divorce. The VA legal aid organization can help explain your rights and responsibilities as you navigate the stages of divorce.

How to file for divorce in Washington

First, consider the help of a Legal Technician who is certified to work with clients on family court matters yet less expensive than an attorney. The state offers some divorce forms online, but there’s little explanation; the information on can help, especially if you have children.

How to file for divorce in West Virginia

Read West Virginia petitioner's divorce instructions first, which warns parties in a divorce to pay attention to deadlines. Both spouses must complete a financial disclosure form at the time the case is filed. A complete set of forms is available on the West Virginia Judicial Branch website.

How to file for divorce in Wisconsin

Look at the checklist on Wisconsin's judicial branch first and gather the documents necessary to move forward, whether you’re the petitioner or the spouse. Remember, the state has a 120-day (about a 4-month) waiting period before the divorce is final. The state law library offers resources for those in need of legal help.

How to file for divorce in Wyoming

Look at the packets available on Wyoming Judicial Branch and choose the one that fits your situation best (the plaintiff is the person who files for divorce, and the defendant is the spouse). Note that if you miss the 20-day window to respond to your spouse’s divorce petition, you may forfeit everything. The state offers free legal aid through an online portal.

Gathering and Completing Divorce Papers

Divorce papers are similar for each state. Most are called petitions and have forms available online. If a couple agrees to divorce and can arrive at a settlement of all assets and debts in advance, divorce courts may be able to grant a quick and less expensive divorce. This is called an uncontested or settlement divorce. It is not usually available to couples with minor children. If children are involved, courts generally require a longer divorce process to ensure they will be cared for and supported financially. People with children often have to take a parenting class before a divorce is granted.

Keeping your divorce records together is important, as is paying attention to deadlines and court dates. You will need the papers for reference as you proceed through the stages of divorce. If you miss a divorce court date or a paperwork deadline, the judge may rule against you.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Divorce? 

Getting divorced can be a brief process in most states, but it depends on many factors, such as:

  • If the couple can agree on a settlement and division of assets,
  • If there are no children or custody issues involved,
  • If the couple agrees on matters of support or alimony
  • The length of the state-mandated cooling-off period, and
  • How busy the divorce court’s docket is at the time.

So how long does divorce take? States often require a “cooling off” period after a judge approves divorce papers and before it is final. This period can be a couple of weeks to several months long. When you’re in the midst of the stages of divorce, asking how long it takes to get divorced seems silly because only a small part of the process is influenced by you.


Getting divorced is a legal process that is similar in most states. There is always paperwork involved, and it’s important to keep track of the divorce papers because one of the people involved may want to make changes to the settlement years later. Each state has its own forms, terms, and waiting periods for divorce proceedings. It’s important to follow the divorce process closely and always pay attention to deadlines for responses because busy courts and judges aren’t very considerate of people who disregard this important process. If you’re still wondering how long a divorce takes, the answer is, it takes as long as it takes.


Should I Hire a Divorce Attorney?

Hiring a divorce attorney will help you understand the divorce process and get a fair shake, but they are expensive, costing anywhere from $7,000 to $100,000. Financial help may be available to those who cannot afford an attorney.

It is possible to save time and money by using a mediator who specializes in divorce. That person helps a divorcing couple understand the process, take stock of assets and accounts, and develop a divorce agreement to present to a judge. Mediators are more often used in divorces that are amicable and aren’t contested in any way.

Can I Change My Name After Divorce Process? 

Changing one’s name back to what it was before they were married is a typical part of the divorce process. However, changing one’s name to something completely different than a previous name will probably have to go through a separate name change petition, which is handled by the probate court.

How Much Does a Divorce Cost? 

The cost of a divorce process depends on many factors, including how complex the situation is, whether the partners agree to end the marriage cooperatively, and whether divorce attorneys are involved. Typically, divorce lawyer fees increase the cost of a divorce significantly, with each partner paying $10,000 or more for a series of negotiations over the settlement agreement.

How Are Assets and Debts Divided During a Divorce Process?

If a couple both work and there are no children involved, a divorce may split assets equitably and require both to pay debts according to their income. For those with children, the court will ensure that they are cared for, including ordering the non-custodial parent to pay support. Most couples of modest means will have to sell any co-owned property during a divorce and split the proceeds (things like a home, boat, or vacation property). Retirement accounts are split as well.

What Happens if We Have Children In Divorce Process?

States have laws in place regarding children affected by divorce. This can mean a couple must take co-parenting classes to understand the impact that divorce has on young children or must have a child support and custody plan in place before the court will approve the divorce. Check with the court clerk’s office near you for information.

Where to Get Divorce Papers?

The divorce court nearest where you live is most likely to have the documents you need, or you can search online for divorce papers in your county. Some states use family courts for divorce, while others use superior courts.