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Where to File for Divorce

You thought the hard decision, whether or not to get a divorce, was done. But there are still so many unanswered questions. One of the first of which is, where do I file my paperwork? We can help with that. Here is a brief guide to finding the right court in your area where you can file for divorce.  

Court Jurisdiction for Divorce Cases

State courts have power (or "jurisdiction") over divorce proceedings, so the spouse seeking a divorce files an initial document called a divorce "petition" or "complaint" with his or her state court -- usually in the county or district branch of the state's "superior" or "circuit" court. In some states, the superior or circuit court will have a specific family court division where the divorce petition is filed and the case is heard. In other states, no specific family court division is designated, so the divorce petition is filed in the main civil division of the superior or circuit court. In heavily populated areas, the county or district branch of the state court may itself have a number of facilities in different locations.

For example, in California the state's Superior Court handles divorces, and the California Superior Court has facilities in each county in the state. California requires that one or both divorcing spouses have lived in California for the previous six months AND have lived in one of the state's counties for the previous three months. So, a couple who has been living in Los Angeles county for the past four years would file a divorce petition in the Superior Court of California - County of Los Angeles. You can check a list of state family courts or contact the local county/district branch of your state's court to learn more about where to file for divorce. Be aware that courts with jurisdiction for divorce cases may not be the same as courts with jurisdiction over child custody and visitation cases.

State and County/District Residency Requirements

Most states have their own residency requirements for people who wish to file for divorce in the state's court system -- rules as to the length of time a spouse must reside in a state before filing for divorce there. For example, as mentioned above, California requires that one or both divorcing spouses have lived in California for the previous six months. Other states require residence within the state for as little as six weeks to as long as one year before filing for divorce.

Before filing for divorce, you will most likely need to comply with not only your state's residency requirements, but also local county or district residency requirements. Again, using California as an example, in order to file for divorce in the state you and/or your spouse must have lived in the state for six months AND in one of the state's counties for the previous three months. Check with the local county/district branch of your state's court to learn more about residency requirements for filing for divorce.

Additional Resources

Figuring out divorce proceedings, especially where to file, can be complex. Discussing your case with an experienced divorce attorney might make the process simpler and better protect your rights. If you would like more introductory material on this topic, you can visit FindLaw’s divorce section.

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