Divorce in Kentucky

These questions and answers give general information about divorce in Kentucky. They do NOT tell you how to get a divorce without the help of a lawyer. Divorce law is complicated and changes often. Every case is different. Unless your divorce is very simple, it is a good idea to have a lawyer.

What is a divorce?

In Kentucky, when you end a marriage through the courts, it is called a dissolution of marriage. This is another name for divorce. In these questions, we use the term divorce, but it is important that you remember that the legal process is called dissolution of marriage.

How long do I have to live in Kentucky before I can file for divorce?

You or your spouse have to be living in Kentucky now. You or your spouse have to have been living only in Kentucky for at least 180 days before you can file.

Do you have to show that your spouse is “at fault” to get a divorce?

No. Kentucky has “no-fault” divorce. This means no one has to be at fault or have done anything wrong to cause the breakup of the marriage. Kentucky only requires that at least 1 spouse believes there is an “irretrievable breakdown” of the marriage with no hope of getting back together.

What are the basic steps for getting a divorce?
  • You or your spouse file a Petition for Dissolution. The person who files the Petition is called the “Petitioner.” The other person is called the “Respondent.”
  • Your spouse gets the chance to tell their side of the story. If they agree with what you say, they get to file a response and tell the judge if they agree. If your spouse does not agree with what you say in the papers you file, you can file a motion to have a series of court appearances with a judge. You only go before a judge if either you or your spouse files a motion.
  • There are issues that have to be worked out before the divorce can be granted. If you or your spouse own property, have pensions or debts or if one person is asking for financial support from the other, you need to figure out these issues before the divorce is final. If you have children, you need to work out custody, parenting time, child support, insurance coverage and medical/dental expenses before the divorce can be granted.
  • The Judge’s office can’t give you legal advice or help you do the necessary paperwork.
  • At the end of your divorce case, the court enters a “Decree of Dissolution” to make it final.  You are not officially divorced until the Decree of Dissolution is issued.

New guided interview and self-help materials available for divorce with no children. CLICK HERE. 

How long do I have to be separated from my spouse before I can get a divorce?

You can file for a divorce at any time, but you and your spouse must be separated and living apart for at least 60 days before a judge can grant a final divorce decree. Living apart means that you and your spouse are not having sexual relations, but you can be living at the same place.

What issues have to be dealt with in a divorce?
  • custody of your minor children
  • how each parent will spend time with the children (parenting time)
  • child support
  • spousal maintenance
  • insurance coverage
  • medical/dental expenses
  • payment of bills and debts
  • division of property, including pensions or retirement accounts.
How long does a divorce take?

The time a divorce takes depends on your situation. Generally, in Kentucky, couples with children of the marriage have to wait at least 60 days before the divorce can be finalized. The court can issue temporary orders as soon as the divorce is filed, but the actual divorce and final orders can’t be done until 60 days after date the divorce was filed. It could take longer than 60 days, depending on the issues of your case and the court’s schedule.

For couples without children of the marriage, a divorce can usually be finalized sooner. But timing still depends on the issues in your divorce. This might be things like if your spouse signs an agreement, or if you have significant assets, etc.

An uncontested divorce is when the parties agree on a settlement or one of the spouses does not respond. An uncontested divorce is likely to take a few months.

If the parties disagree, the divorce can sometimes take from 6 months to 2 years.

If I get served with divorce papers, what should I do?

Option 1: Do nothing
You can choose to do nothing. The divorce case will go forward without you. The judge bases their decision on only what your spouse says. They make what is called a "default judgment." A default judgment is when a person loses a case because they don’t file a paper telling the court they want to take part in the case or when they don’t show up on court.

This option might work for you if there are no issues like children or property in the case to argue about. But this option could cause problems if you don't like what the judge decides without you.

To protect your legal rights and to have a say in the outcome, talk to a lawyer and think about responding to the case.

Option 2: Respond to the divorce papers and take part in the court case
You can take part in the case. This means going to court to tell your side. You have to first respond in writing to the divorce papers you got.

If you want to respond, you must mail your response to your spouse or your spouse’s lawyer within 20 days from the date you got the divorce papers. You must also file your response with the court within a few days of mailing that copy to your spouse or their lawyer.

A response is a formal written answer to the Petition where you say you agree or disagree with the statements your spouse made in each paragraph. After you agree or disagree with each statement, sign your name.

On your response, write a statement that says how, where and when you mailed the response to your spouse or the lawyer. For example, “I mailed this to [your spouse’s name/lawyer’s name] at this address:_______ on [date.]". Sign your name after this statement.

Make at least 3 copies of your response, then file 1 with the court, mail 1 to your spouse/spouse’s lawyer, and keep a copy for your records.

Can I get a divorce if I don’t know where my spouse is?

There are some rules that have to be followed if you don’t know where your spouse is. If those rules are followed, you can get divorced.

If this is your scenario, we advise you to contact a lawyer. We do not suggest representing yourself. Contact your local legal aid program.

If my spouse is in jail, can I get divorced?

There are rules that have to be followed if your spouse is in jail. If those rules are followed, you can get divorced.

If this is your scenario, we advise you to contact a lawyer. We do not suggest representing yourself.  Contact your local legal aid program.

I am not a U.S. citizen. Can I get a divorce in Kentucky?

Yes. You and/or your spouse are not required to be a U.S. citizen to get a divorce in Kentucky. You can get a divorce as long as one of you has lived in Kentucky for at least 180 days. But if your right to live in the U.S. depends on your marriage, divorce could affect your status.

If this is your scenario, we advise you to contact a lawyer. We do not suggest representing yourself.  Contact your local legal aid program.

What's the difference between legal separation and divorce?

Legally separated means that you and your spouse live separately but are still legally married. Your rights and responsibilities are set out in a decree of legal separation. The legal process is almost like the process for a divorce. A legal separation can be changed to a divorce after 1 year.

Can I get my maiden name back?

Yes. If you are granted a divorce and you ask, the Court can change (restore) your name to your maiden name or another name you had. It is your decision to decide if you want to use another legal name – your ex-spouse does not have a say in that decision for you.

Can I file for divorce if my spouse is pregnant or if I am pregnant?

You can file for divorce, but the court won’t grant it until after the child is born or the pregnancy ends.

Can I file for divorce if my spouse is in the military?

Yes, you can file for a divorce if your spouse is in the military. But it can take longer to get the divorce finalized if the military spouse is on duty and can’t go to court hearings. The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) lets active-duty military ask for a “stay” of a divorce or other claims. A “stay” is a delay of the court proceedings. Other claims are things like:

  • spousal support
  • custody
  • child support
  • property division
  • military pension division

They can ask for a “stay” if their duties keep them from being a part of or responding to the court action. The initial “stay” is for at least 90 days.

How much does it cost to file a divorce in Kentucky?

The filing fee for a divorce is different from county to county. Contact the Office of Circuit Court Clerk in your county for information on the fee.

Are there things I should think about if I am getting divorced from an abusive spouse?

Yes. The end of a violent relationship is sometimes the most dangerous time for the victim and children. There may be free legal and non-legal help at Kentucky Coalition Against Domestic Violence for people leaving a violent relationship. It is a also good idea to come up with a safety plan. You may also want to look into getting an Order of Protection (see https://www.kyjustice.org/topics/victims-crime/protective-orders) if you think you may be in danger.  It is important to know that the Court may make some of its decisions based on safety concerns for the parents and/or children.


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