How do I Ask the Court for a Divorce?

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How do I ask the court for a divorce?

The basic steps include:

  1. Fill out and file a divorce Petition and other required court forms.
  2. Take your original Petition plus a copy to the court clerk's office and ask to file them. (Also keep a copy for your records.)
  3. You will have to pay the clerk a filing fee, and a fee to serve your spouse a copy of the divorce papers. Or have your spouse sign an agreement saying s/he agrees not to be served.
  4. Finalize the divorce by asking the court to make orders or asking the court to accept the agreement that you and your spouse made.

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Where do I get the court papers that I need to fill out?

Ask the Family Court Clerk if your court has forms that you can fill out, called pro se divorce forms. If they do not, you will need a lawyer to help prepare your court papers.

See: Self-Help Divorce Forms

Caution! Different courts use different forms. Make sure you understand which forms you have to fill out.

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Where do I file my divorce papers?

Take your Petition and other court papers (plus 1 copy of each) to the Circuit or Family Court Clerk's Office at your local courthouse. Also keep a copy for your records. The clerk will:

  • Ask you to pay a filing fee and a fee for service,

  • Stamp the original and the copy, and

  • Have the copy served on your spouse.

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How much are the court fees?

The fees are different in each county. The clerk's office at your local courthouse can tell you the exact amount.

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What if I can't afford to pay the court fees?

Ask the clerk's office at your local courthouse how to ask for a fee waiver. A fee waiver, also called IFP, asks the judge to look at your financial situation and decide if you have to pay the fees or not.

The judge may give you a fee waiver if paying the court fees would mean you would not be able to pay for your basic expenses, such as food, rent, or utilities.

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What happens after I file my divorce papers?

Your case will be assigned to a judge, and the court will give you the date of your hearing.

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What if I need child support or other orders right away?

You may need the court to make orders about things that cannot wait until the hearing, such as:

  • Custody and visitation,

  • Child support,

  • Spousal maintenance, or

  • Control of property, such as who will stay in the marital home, etc.

You can ask the court for temporary orders. The court clerk can give you the forms you need to fill out. Asking for orders can be complicated. You should also talk to a lawyer. If you need help to find a lawyer, see: Where can I find a lawyer?

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How do I finalize my divorce?

Usually, at least one of you (or your lawyer) must go to the final court hearing.

If you and your spouse have made an agreement, the judge will ask you about your agreement at the hearing. If the agreement is fair, the judge will probably approve it and make it part of your final divorce order.

If you and your spouse cannot agree on what you want, the judge will make decisions on your case after the hearing.

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What if a divorce was started but not finalized?

You are not divorced until a judge makes the final divorce order.

If you started a divorce, and want to finish it now, call the court where the divorce was started, and ask if the case was dismissed. If it was not dismissed, you can ask the court to finalize the divorce. (The courts usually keep divorce cases open for one year.)

If the case was already dismissed, and you still want to get divorced, you will have to start over from the beginning.

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What kind of orders can the court make as part of a divorce?

The court can make orders that:

  • End the marriage,

  • Divide the marital property and debts (usually half to you, and half to your spouse),

  • Give non-marital property and debt to the owner,

  • Establish child support, custody, and visitation, or

  • Give the wife back her former name.

The court may also make other orders, such as counseling, spousal maintenance, or protective orders.

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Since we separated, I have no money to pay for my children's expenses. Who can help me?

If you have primary residential custody, in other words, if the children live with you most of the time, you should be able to get child support from your child's other parent. Your local County Attorney's Child Support Division can help you. For more information, see: Child Support.

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Will the court order my spouse to pay me spousal maintenance?

It depends on your situation. The court may make a temporary maintenance order if:

  • You have very young children or a disabled child and must stay at home to care for them,

  • You are disabled and cannot work,

  • You have never worked and have no work skills, or

  • You were married for 10 or more years.

If you want temporary spousal maintenance, you must ask the court to order it. The court clerk can give you the forms you need to fill out. You should also talk to a lawyer. Asking for a spousal maintenance order can be complicated. If you need help to find a lawyer, see: Where can I find a lawyer?

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Can I get my maiden name back as part of the divorce?

Yes. You can ask the court to give you back your maiden name as part of your divorce. You can also keep your married name. It is up to you to decide.

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Reviewed March 2009