How to Start the Divorce Process
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How to Start the Divorce Process

Deciding that you want to leave your marriage is a serious decision, and once you’ve decided to do it, you want things to go as quickly and as painlessly as possible. While the exact process varies slightly from state to state, it’s relatively easy to start the divorce process–the difficult part comes later, when you have to split up your assets. Still, you need to follow the legal process to the letter for the divorce to be official.

Step 1

Visit your county court’s website to learn the specific rules and procedures for your area. Most states follow the general pattern laid out here, but some will have different requirements.

Step 2

Talk to your spouse about wanting a divorce. You shouldn’t do this if you are escaping an abusive situation. In other cases, however, this will help ensure a more amicable divorce. If you blindside your partner by surprising him with a request for a divorce, he may lash out by trying to gain custody of the children or more of the assets.

Step 3

Hire a divorce attorney. You’ll want legal help to be sure you are doing everything properly and to protect your interests throughout the proceedings.

Step 4

Fill out the “Petition for Divorce” or “Letter of Complaint.” The name for this varies by state, but it’s a document that states that you want a divorce, why you want the divorce and what you feel you are due. You can receive this document from the county court clerk. You can file it with the court clerk at this point, or you can wait for a response from your spouse.

Step 5

Serve your partner a summons. This accompanies the Petition for Divorce and states that your spouse must respond to the request within 30 days. You can have a process server give your spouse the summons, or you can mail it along with the Admission of Service document.

Step 6

Submit the forms to the county court clerk office if you have not done so.


  • Some states have residential requirements before you can file for divorce.
  • Not all states recognize gay marriage, which makes it particularly difficult for gay couples to get a divorce if you’ve moved to a state that doesn’t recognize gay marriage. You may have to move back to the state in which you were married for a certain time frame before you can get a legal divorce.

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