The divorce process officially begins when a divorce petition is filed in the family law court. The divorce petition is a formal complaint, typically put together by one spouse with the help of a divorce lawyer. Under most circumstances, three copies are filed with the divorce court, one of which is "served" on the other spouse.
The divorce petition usually must be filed in the county of residence of the person filing for divorce, regardless of where the couple was married, so long as the state residency requirements are met.
The spouse who files the divorce petition is known from that point forward as the petitioner, and the other spouse as the respondent. These roles don't change, even if the respondent later files a petition against the original petitioner to resolve an issue related to the marriage.
The divorce petition asks the court to grant a divorce or dissolution of marriage based on a particular reason. In no fault divorce, the reason stated is often "irreconcilable differences."
The divorce petition must also identify both spouses, any children and any issues of the divorce that the judge must decide. The petitioner states in the divorce petition his or her wishes regarding child custody, child support, alimony, property division and other marital issues, asking the court for an order granting the requests.
Typically in contested divorces, the court requires formal service of the divorce papers upon the respondent in order to verify that the party has received a copy of the divorce petition. Legal service of the complaint is accomplished by a third party. Process service may be handled by the local sheriff's office or served by an independent process server.
If both parties agree to an uncontested divorce, formal service may not be required, or service of the divorce petition may be handled by mail, if the respondent signs a receipt acknowledging service.
Once the divorce petition has been served, the respondent usually has about 30 days to answer the divorce petition and respond to any requests made by the petitioner.
Service of the divorce petition helps establish the date of separation and starts the divorce process. The date the divorce petition was served on also marks the start of any waiting periods in divorce requirements.
If you are considering divorce or have been served with a divorce petition, speak with a local divorce lawyer to learn more about the divorce laws in your state and how they may affect your case. Find a divorce lawyer near you by calling 877-349-1310 or filling out a divorce case review form.
The above summary of divorce petitions is by no means all-inclusive and is not intended to serve as legal advice. These laws may have changed since our last update and there may be additional laws that apply in your situation. For the latest information on these divorce laws, please contact a local divorce lawyer in your area.