If you are considering dissolving your marriage or filing for child custody, you will need to go through the courts. Not every case goes to trial, of course; in fact, most don’t. However, a judge will need to approve of and certify the settlement that you and your ex-spouse agree on. The entire process starts with filing a claim. While the procedure differs somewhat from state to state, read on to find information on the general process on how to file a claim.
File a Claim With the Right Court
In most states, you will have needed to live in that state for a certain period of time before you can file a claim for divorce in that state. If you haven’t lived there long enough, then you might be able to file for a legal separation and save the actual divorce for when you meet the residency requirements. If you both live in separate states, you might have the option as to which state you can file in. In many states, you will need to go through the county where you or your spouse currently lives.
If you are a same-sex couple and you have a domestic partnership or a civil union rather than a marriage, it might be a bit more complicated: If your current state does not recognize domestic partnerships/civil unions, you might need to go through the court in the state where you originally obtained the partnership. This is a situation that can change from one year to another, so it’s best to contact a legal advocacy group to learn about your options in your current state.
Fill Out The Correct Forms
Go to the clerk of the court in the correct city or county and ask for the forms you will need to begin your case. These forms vary somewhat from state to state, so explain that you want to file a claim for a divorce (or a legal separation, if that is what you are doing). Mention if you own property together and if you have children because you might need additional forms. If you have any type of unusual circumstance (your spouse lives in another state, for example), mention that as well. This will help ensure that you get all of the forms that you’ll need to file a claim correctly.
Make two copies of each form that you fill out. One will be for you and the other will be served to your spouse. File the original with the court. You will receive blank forms that your spouse will fill out, which you will need to serve to them. If you had to fill out extra paperwork for your child custody and visitation arrangement or for shared property, you may need to include blank copies of these forms, too.
Serve Your Spouse
The way you serve your spouse the papers also differs from state to state. If possible, have them delivered by hand. That is the most effective way to be sure that he or she has received the paperwork. You can also have someone else serve them by mail (return receipt if necessary), or ask the sheriff to serve the forms for a fee. Your decision depends on whether you think your spouse will attempt to refuse the forms and how your relationship is. If it’s less than amicable, you might consider serving them by mail or via an official proxy rather than by a friend or relative.
Note that in most states, someone other than you will need to serve the papers. Also, in some states, serving by mail is not allowed or only allowed if your spouse agrees to receive them that way. It’s important to know your state’s laws.
Fill Out Additional Paperwork
You will probably need to fill out financial disclosure forms. These are forms that state how much money you have, how much debt you have, your income, your assets, any businesses you own, and so on. Your spouse will have to fill out similar forms. Include your tax returns and any other proof you have of your assets, liabilities, and other financial documents. Be sure to comply with the date listed on the form; don’t send this in late. Again, make two copies: Keep one copy and serve the other copy to your spouse the same way you served the divorce papers. Make sure to file the original with the court.
Consider Whether You Need to Go to Court
In many divorces, both spouses work together to decide what is best in terms of splitting up the property and debts and determining a fair custody arrangement that is in the best interest of the children. You might be able to come to an agreement on your own if you are both in agreement about everything, or you might disagree on some things and be able to solve others with the help of a mediator. A legal advocacy group can also work with you to help you achieve a fair settlement. Don’t assume that you will need to go to court, even if you are on very poor terms with your spouse. It is estimated that only five percent of divorce cases actually go to trial.
If you do need to go to trial, you will need some type of legal representation. Even if you do not go to trial, you will probably feel more secure if you have legal experts by your side. If you cannot afford expensive attorney fees, a legal resource group like National Family Solutions can help you understand all of the steps involved in how to file a claim, filling out the paperwork, serving your spouse, making a parenting plan agreement, and so on.
This is a service available for a fraction of the cost of a private attorney and it can help you ensure that you are getting a fair settlement and not agreeing to anything that will not be in your best interest and in the best interest of your children. Contact National Family Solutions today to find out if we are the right resource group to help you with your divorce and child custody case.