Making the decision to file for divorce is definitely not easy.
It’s often only after a lot of long conversations, arguments, reflection, and both internal and external debate that a person comes to the conclusion that divorce is the best path forward. In other cases, the decision to divorce is made quickly, after some type of betrayal or another dramatic event.
Either way, deciding to divorce is traumatic, and the last thing you want is to be faced with a new confusing and upsetting process. But often, that’s what the legal process of divorce is for people.
Knowing what to expect and how to proceed through the filing process can help reduce hassles and frustration.
Choose the Correct Forms
Start by choosing the correct forms to petition for a divorce.
If you’re the person filing for a divorce, you need the paperwork for the petitioner – the person who receives the divorce papers is called the respondent, and they’ll have different paperwork to handle. There may be different forms to file for divorce depending on if you have children or not.
You may have to fill out a form showing that you’re a resident of the state you’re filing in. There could also be different forms for a no-fault divorce than a fault-based divorce. However, this only applies in states that have fault-based divorces – some states don’t recognize fault divorces, so no-fault is your only option.
Make sure that you choose the correct forms for your situation. Fill them out fully, and go over the forms in detail before submitting them. If you make a mistake, it’s possible that you may have to re-file the paperwork, which can cost you both time and money.
Make sure that you wait to sign the paperwork until you can do so in front of a notary public. You may be able to have your paperwork notarized in the clerk of court’s office, which is where you’ll need to turn in your paperwork.
You’ll need to pay a fee to file the paperwork, although in some cases, you may be able to have the fee waived if you can show a financial need. The clerk should provide you with a copy of the paperwork, stamped with the date, to show that the divorce paperwork has been filed. Hold onto this for your records.
Serving Your Spouse
The next step is to give your spouse a copy of the legal paperwork. This is called “serving” divorce papers. There are a few different ways to serve your spouse.
You can serve the papers yourself if your spouse is willing to sign a paper saying that they waive formal service. If the divorce is something that you and your spouse have both already agreed to, then this might be the simplest way to go about things.
If your spouse is not willing to waive formal service or you don’t want to give them the papers yourself, you can hire a private process server, or you can have your local sheriff’s office serve the papers. To formally serve the papers, the person doing the serving must be a disinterested party – meaning an adult who isn’t a party to the case or interested in the outcome. If you know someone who meets this description and is willing to serve the papers, you can ask them to do so.
In some divorce cases, spouses can’t be easily found. If your spouse left and you don’t know where they are, or if you can contact them but don’t have an address for them, there are a few other options.
If you’re able to contact your spouse, but you don’t have a good address to serve the papers, you can ask the court to allow service by alternate means. This can mean sending the papers via email, text message, or even social media. Typically, judges will allow this when it seems clear that one spouse is deliberately trying to avoid being served.
If you’re not able to contact your spouse and don’t know where they are, you can request to be allowed to serve the papers by publication. This means that you’ll publish the summons in the newspaper where your spouse will be likely to see them or at least be told about them.
However, before a judge will allow you to serve the summons by publication, they’ll want you to try every other method of contacting them available to you. So make sure that you document every attempt you make to find your spouse. Contact places of employment, friends, family members, coworkers, and anywhere else that might help you discover your spouse’s location, and keep a record of all of it.
During the divorce process, you may be required to file various other documents with the court as well. One important document that you’ll need to file after your spouse has been served is a financial affidavit.
In this document, you’ll need to provide documentation of your income, debts, assets, tax returns, personal financial statement, bank statements, credit card statements, and any other financial documents that the court or your spouse should be aware of.
It’s very important to be thorough and honest in your financial statements to the court. Failing to provide a full financial picture to the divorce court won’t work out well for you.
People often do this because they’re trying to protect their finances, but in reality, if the court finds out that you’ve hidden funds or assets, you’re likely to face sanctions that will cost you more than if you’d simply been honest from the beginning.
If you find yourself overwhelmed by the paperwork involved in a divorce, but you don’t want to pay the high costs of hiring a family law attorney to handle it for you, don’t worry.
A legal resource group like National Family Solutions will help you prepare your paperwork and file for divorce so that you can be certain it’s done correctly.