Filing and Serving Divorce Papers

The divorce petition is a legal document filed in court by a spouse who seeks a divorce. Also called the "complaint" in some states, the petition informs the court of the filing spouse's (called the "petitioner") desire to end the marriage, and its filing with the court signifies the initiation of the divorce process. Once the divorce petition has been "served" on the petitioner's spouse, it also notifies them that the divorce process has begun.

Below you'll find general information about filing and serving divorce papers, including the contents of a divorce petition, where to file the papers, and state-specific samples.

Contents of the Divorce Petition: Information and Requests

While specific requirements and formats vary from state to state, the divorce petition typically contains the following information:

  • Identification of the spouses by name and address;
  • Date and place of marriage;
  • Identification of children of the marriage;
  • Acknowledgment that the petitioner and/or his or her spouse have lived in the state or county for a certain amount of time prior to filing the petition;
  • Grounds for divorce;
  • Declaration or request as to how the petitioner would like to settle finances, property division, child custody, visitation, and other issues related to divorce.

Contents of the Divorce Petition: Temporary Orders

In addition to the information described above, the divorce petition may ask the court to put temporary "orders" in place on certain family and financial issues while the divorce process is ongoing. If approved, these orders usually stay in effect until the divorce becomes final. These temporary orders may pertain to issues such as:

  • Which spouse will have primary (physical) custody of the child(ren).
  • Child visitation schedule for the non-custodial spouse.
  • Payment of child support.
  • Payment of spousal support.
  • Which spouse will live in the couple's house or primary residence.
  • Payment of bills and other financial concerns.

Where to File Divorce Papers

Where you file for divorce is crucial. As with virtually all matters of family law, the divorce process is handled solely at the state government level, so the spouse seeking a divorce files a divorce petition in their state's "superior" or "circuit" court -- usually in a county or district branch of that state court.

Residency requirements vary by state, but will determine where the petitioner will be filing and serving divorce papers. For instance, California requires that at least one of the divorcing spouses has lived in the state for the previous six months -- but in order to file in a given county, one of the spouses must have lived in that county for the previous three months.

Serving Divorce Papers

After filing divorce papers with the court, the petitioner (and their lawyer) makes sure that the petition is "served" (legally delivered) on the other spouse. Each state has strict requirements for serving legal documents, including the different methods of service that are available, so it's important that service be done right in order for the divorce to validly proceed.

Sample Divorce Petitions (i.e. Complaints)

The state-specific samples below should give you an idea of what a divorce petition (or complaint) looks like, and the information these documents usually contain:

Get Legal Help Filing and Serving Divorce Papers

How you proceed with your divorce can seriously impact how easy the process is and how much it ends up costing you. For this reason, it's a good idea to contact an experienced divorce attorney to get help with anything from preparing, filing, and serving the divorce petition to making sure your settlement agreement is fair to you.

Next Steps

Contact a qualified divorce attorney to make sure your rights are protected.

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