When you first get married, you don’t imagine that it all might end in a divorce. You’re in love and happy, and you plan to stay that way. Yet, if you’re like 40-50% of married Americans, despite your initial hopes and dreams you are now seeking a divorce. You never planned on this, so how are you supposed to know where to start?

Below, we’ll detail all you need to do and prepare to file and settle a divorce as quickly and painlessly as possible.


filling up divorce certificate

Determining Eligibility

Before filing for divorce, you should first find out if you’re even eligible to apply for it in the first place. Divorce laws fall under state jurisdiction rather than federal, so you must first familiarize with your state requirements for divorce.

Each state/area has a residency requirement for filing for divorce. This requirement is generally anywhere between 90 days and a year, though some places like Reno, Nevada have a residency requirement of only six weeks.

Grounds For Divorce

Once you know you can get divorced, establish why you want to be. In filing for divorce papers, you will have to detail these grounds—you can’t actually legally file for divorce without providing any grounds.

Grounds for divorce typically fall into two camps: at-fault and no-fault. At-fault grounds include such purposeful acts as adultery, abuse, and other acts that legitimize the call for a divorce. No-fault grounds are a bit murkier, referring to a lack of compatibility or love. Different state requirements may call for specific types of grounds to legitimize the filing, so be sure to look into this.

Determine What Type Of Divorce You Are Seeking

It’s just a regular divorce, right? Two people separating from each other, who are no longer seen as married in the eyes of the law. Simple.

It isn’t though—not really. There are actually several types of divorces, and the type you decide to file for can influence whether or not it’s granted in the way that you want. Different types of divorce include the above mentioned at-fault and no-fault, along with contested, uncontested, mediated, collaborative, and summary.

For more information on each of these types of divorce, check out this article by Rocket Lawyer.

Hire A Divorce Attorney

group of attorney

Hiring a divorce attorney is not always necessary in divorce cases if you feel comfortable representing yourself, but it is advisable. Divorce lawyers will provide you with all the information you need to know about how to get a divorce, and can help you in gathering together and organizing everything you’ll need.

If the other party has already hired a divorce attorney, it is especially recommended that you likewise hire one so that you can maintain equal footing. If you don’t have sufficient funds to hire a divorce lawyer, you can try getting in contact with the local legal aid office and seek reduced council or at the very least legal advice.

Once hired, your divorce attorney will help you establish everything you want to get out of the divorce and work to make it happen in whichever way you deem fit.

Gather Important Papers And Information

Divorces can be long and drawn-out processes if you start the process without knowing how to get a divorce in the first place. One thing that you can do to help streamline the process before it’s fully going is to gather all the important papers and information that you will need going into negotiations so that time isn’t wasted on documents and information to be located.

This type of information includes tax information, any deeds that may be in your possession, proof of employment/payment, and any joint legal documents such as wills and any shared properties. All this will not only be helpful to your lawyer, but also to the court—when they call for any specific documents, you want to have them on hand to avoid any confusion and present yourself well to the court.

Estimate Assets And Holdings

In addition to gathering important information and legal documents, you must also gather information on all your assets and holdings. This includes your yearly earnings and any properties or holdings of great value that you own.

How the assets are divided is dependent upon the state. If no prenuptial agreement was signed, there are typically two ways that states divide assets: community property and equitable division.

Under community property, assets are split 50/50 between the divorcing couple. With equitable division, however, assets are split unequally depending on who contributed the most wealth to the holdings. While unequal, however, this split is not necessarily directly proportional. For more information, check out your local state laws.

Come Up With Terms Beforehand

Another step you should do in preparation for actually filing for divorce is to establish your terms beforehand. Doing this will not only inform how you go about the divorce process, but it will also likely determine the nature of the divorce you are filing for.

If you have already drafted and come up with an agreement, for instance, your divorce papers will be uncontested and likely easier to push through in court and approve.

If an agreement can’t be arranged, then you know that you may be in for a longer ride than you’d like once you officially file those papers.


man submitting a folder

Now that you’ve fully prepared and gathered everything you need for the next legal proceedings, it’s time to do the actual action: filing for divorce.

File The Petition

To file for divorce, you must complete a notarized petition for divorce. In this petition, you will need to provide general information about both you and your spouse, along with the grounds for divorce. This petition is the first solidified legal step in the process of how to get a divorce.

You will also need to provide a summary of what you want to get out of the divorce settlement, including your return to a single-status, any claims to property, desired custody settlements, and any type of requested support. If you have a divorce lawyer, they will help you fill out this form to its best completion to ensure the court has a perfect understanding of what you are seeking in your settlement.

After you’ve completely filled out this form, it must be officially notarized. You will also likely have to pay a fee for the filing of the petition, which can vary between states. If you are unable to afford the fee, you can apply for a waiver or reduced price.

Serve The Divorce Papers

Once your petition for divorce is filed, it must then be served to the other party. This responsibility is typically given to your lawyer to do. If you do not have a lawyer, however, a state official such as the sheriff will deliver the papers.

When the papers have been delivered, the other party is given a period of time to respond and prepare, generally thirty days or so. Shortly thereafter, you will both have to attend a hearing with the court and the divorce process officially begins.


gavel and scale

Attend A Hearing

As stated above, after the petition is filed you will be given a hearing date to appear in court. At this hearing, both you and your spouse’s lawyers will present your cases and you will be able to make your own statement. Judges will typically grant a divorce quickly if both parties are consenting.

If there are tricky matters involved, however, such as the dispute of large assets and the custody of children, this process can be a little more drawn out. Divorce cases can frequently turn into custody battles, necessitating that you begin to make a case for yourself as a capable parent and the other as less so. This is an emotional process for all involved and best solved outside of court if possible.

court room

Come To An Agreement Outside Of Court

Though you receive a hearing date when you file your petition for divorce, you don’t necessarily have to appear in court if you and the other party are able to draw up an agreement outside of court. Such a process is generally considered collaborative or mediating divorce, where both parties and their lawyers are willing to work together to create a settlement that everyone can agree to.

This is often one of the most peaceful ways of how to get a divorce, and it will likely be granted by judge without necessitating any appearance in court if both parties are consenting. This settlement is legally binding and solidifies the divorce.

Final Ruling

With the final ruling of the judge comes the solidification of your divorce—all that’s left is to sign the papers. You may not necessarily achieve the complete outcome that you desire, but you will be court-mandated to follow whatever ruling the judge gives.

If you vehemently disagree with any of the rulings, however, such as a custody agreement, you can make an appeal to the court. This will extend the legal process, though, so be prepared for this. For other issues, you can consult your state laws and courts.

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