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Divorce Process

United States

Chapter 3

This chapter reviews the process of filing for Divorce.

ID Theft

Because of the rise in ID Theft, many States have enacted privacy laws. 

Your divorce papers are considered public documents. 

Many States do not require a person to place their full social security number, full bank account number, or birthday directly on their divorce papers but instead have a special form for this information.  Once this special form is filled out and filed, it is placed in a protected location. 

Unless it is required, do not place your full social security number, full bank account number, or birthday on any of your divorce documents. 

Questions You Need To Ask The Clerk

Divorce has to be filed at the County or State’s Courthouse, but the court itself can be called family court, domestic relations court, or divorce court. 

Ask the clerk if they have forms that need to be filled out, and if they do, what are all the forms. 

Are there separate forms for a divorce with children compared to a divorce without children? 

Do the forms have to be typed, or can your answers be handwritten? 

If the forms have to be typed, do the forms come in an electronic format that you can use on a computer? 

Do the forms have a place on them that will allow you to change your name or restored it to your maiden name? 

Ask where you should go to attain a child support order. 

Ask if you have to create a Parenting Plan or attend a Parenting Class.  Get the list of approved classes or mediation organizations from the clerk.

If your spouse abandoned you, lives in another State, ask the court for a divorce by default.  Ask what forms are needed to attain a default Judgment or default Decree.  Some courts require you to file an Application and Affidavit for Default. 

If your spouse does not respond to the summons, ask what forms are needed to attain a default Judgment or default Decree.  Some courts require you to file an Application and Affidavit for Default. 

If your spouse abandoned you or lives in another State will probably require you to place an ad in the local newspaper of your spouse’s last known location.  Before you place an ad in the local newspaper, check with the court for a list of approved newspapers, check to see how long the ad must run, and check to see if there is a required form that has to be filled out first. 

When you file your paperwork, ask if there is a free lawyer that will look over your paperwork. 

When you file your paperwork, you should ask the clerk to look it over to ensure that there are no additional forms or information that might be required or needed.

Some courts require you to file a Motion to Set to get a date for your divorce hearing. 

Other courts give you a date for your divorce hearing automatically.  Ask the clerk or check with your local legal help center regarding the correct procedure to attain a trial date for your divorce.

If the judge changes anything in your Judgment / Decree at the hearing, ask the judge if you should schedule another hearing after making the changes and filed a revised Judgment / Decree. 

At the hearing, if the judge makes any statement or asks you any question that you do not understand, ask the judge to explain.  The judge must ensure that you understand. 

The Process - What You Need To Consider Before You Start

Many people make the mistake of not having their divorce recorded after receiving their final divorce papers in the mail.  You are not officially divorced until your divorce papers are recorded. 

Every State or county has little differences when filing for divorce, which you will have to follow. 

For example:

Some States do not want people attempting to fill out or create all the forms or documents all at one time.  They want you to complete the forms or documents necessary for the step you are working on. 

Other States would prefer you to complete and file as many of the documents and forms as you can at one time.

Your local area might have additional forms and documents that you might have to create and file.  Such as a Certificate of Divorce or a Certificate of Corroborating Witnesses. 

During each individual step that you are working on, ask the clerk if there are any additional forms or documents that the court might require you to complete the part of the process you are working on. 

Most banks will have a notary and will notarize your documents for free if you have an account at the bank.  However, the courthouses should also have a notary and may also notarize your documents for free. 

Some States will only allow you to use their forms.  In these states, even lawyers have to use these forms. 

Other States have no forms, and you will have to create most of the required documents yourself.  However, the States where you have to create the documents yourself will have examples for you to follow. 

If your spouse lives in another State, some States will allow you to file a Dissolution of Marriage, but other States will not. 

For example: 

If you live in Alaska and your spouse lives in Arizona, you cannot file a Dissolution of Marriage in Alaska. 

However, if your spouse lives in Arizona and you still live in Alaska, then your spouse in Arizona can file the Dissolution of Marriage in Arizona.  You can ask your spouse who lives in Arizona to file a Dissolution of Marriage, and Alaska will have to honor it. 

In some States each county can have its own rules and procedures. 

For example:

If both spouses live in Alaska, then you can file a Dissolution of Marriage.  However, each county in Alaska has its own rules and procedures. 

Remember, the clerks cannot provide any legal advice, but they can help with any confusion you might have and provide you with the correct documents.  Some States have a free legal help center that might answer any questions that you might have.  

Pension, Social Security, and Retirement Accounts:

If you have been married for more than eight years, you will need a lawyer because your spouse is probably entitled to your pension, social security, and retirement account.  However, you will also be entitled to your spouse’s pension, social security, and retirement account. 

Nonetheless, you both can put in the agreement that you both waive all rights to each other pension, social security, and retirement account. 

Mortgage or Home:

No matter what State you live in, we strongly suggest that you talk to a lawyer regarding a Mortgage or a house before you file.  A Mortgage or a house can be complicated, and to make sure your rights are protected, talk to a LAWYER before you file for divorce. 

If one spouse already owned the home you both live in, then the home belongs to that spouse. 

However, this depends on how long you two were married.  If you two were married for a long time (let’s say, 8 years or more), the court will consider the amount of marriageable assets that went into paying for the mortgage.  Because of this, you might be entitled to some kind of ownership of the house.  


The other spouse can always waive all rights to possession, title, and ownership of the home. 

If the other spouse does not wish to waive all rights to possession, title, and ownership of the home, or if you two cannot work out some kind of agreement, we suggest that you get a lawyer.


If you purchased a house during the time you were married, and you both agree, then you can sell the home and divide up the proceeds.


If you purchased a house during the time you were married and both agree, then one spouse can buy out the other spouse. 

  • If one spouse buys out the other, make sure that you can transfer the mortgage into the name of the spouse keeping the house. 
  • If one spouse assumes the mortgage, ensure that the other spouse’s name is taken off the title and the deed. 
  • Make sure that the spouse who is keeping the house can get a new mortgage. 

If you cannot sell the house or if the spouse that is keeping the house cannot attain a new mortgage, then make sure that you put in the Marital Settlement Agreement or the Divorce Decree that if the house is sold in the future, that the proceeds from the sale will be divided evenly, and that both parties will receive copies of all documents related to the sale of the house. 


If one spouse is in the military, you need a lawyer because you will have to deal with military rules, procedures, and federal laws such as the Service Members Civil Relief Act. 

Military service includes Air Force, Army, Marine, Navy, Coast Guard, US Public Health Services, and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration 

Table of Contents - 10 Pages Total