How to File an Original Petition for Divorce

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01 of 05

How to Initiate a DIY Divorce

To begin the pro se or "do-it-yourself" divorce process, a document called Original Petition for Divorce is filed with your local court clerk and legally begins the process of divorce. In some states, this is referred to as a “Letter of Complaint.” Both documents are requests that the court grant a divorce and list any relief the party filing for divorce feels they are due.

What Is an Original Petition for Divorce?

The Original Petition for Divorce is the request for a hearing to allow a judge to grant you a divorce. You can obtain the form from your county courthouse.

The original petition or letter of complaint will identify the parties to the divorce and any children they may have. The party filing for divorce will have to state a reason as part of the petition or letter. In most states, this will be “irreconcilable differences” or “incompatibility” based on new no-fault divorce laws.

Learning your state’s divorce laws will help familiarize you with the grounds allowed in your state. The person filing for the divorce will be named the “petitioner” by the courts while the other party to the divorce is referred to as the “respondent” or, in some states, the “defendant.”

02 of 05

Information Needed to File an Original Petition for Divorce

The divorce process will not begin until you file your petition with the court clerk in the proper county. Petitions can be obtained online but, since these are generic forms, it is best to get all the proper paperwork from your court clerk so they will be specific to the laws and procedures of the court you are filing through.

The petition will need to contain a statement in plain and to-the-point language regarding the cause of the divorce action and the relief you are asking for. If you are filing on certain grounds, state those grounds without going into details. You will be able to give details and evidence regarding the details at a later date. The court does not want to hear all the gory details of your marriage in the petition for divorce. If there is anything in the petition that you do not understand, a call to your court clerk will clear up any confusion.

You will find out through the process that the court clerk will become an invaluable source of information. They cannot give legal advice, but do give advice on filling out and filing legal documents.

Specific information needed will vary from state to state, but the petition will normally request the following information:

  • Identification of the spouses by name and address
  • Date and place of marriage
  • Identification of children of the marriage
  • Acknowledgment that the petitioner and his/her spouse have lived in the state or county for a certain amount of time before filing the petition
  • Grounds for divorce
  • Declaration or request as to how the petitioner would like to settle finances, property division, child custody, visitation, and other issues related to divorce
03 of 05

Filing the Original Petition For Divorce

When you file your petition, ask your court clerk if the courts will automatically set a date for a hearing for temporary orders or if they ask that you request a date. Some states automatically set dates for such issues as temporary orders for child support and spousal support.

It is imperative to ask if there is further paperwork you need to file in order to obtain temporary orders. If you have children, a home, and property to be divided you will need interim relief from the courts to protect yourself, your children, and your property.

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Notifying the Respondent

State laws vary but you normally have between 30 and 40 days to notify your spouse. After you have filled out and filed the original petition for divorce, you must serve the respondent (your spouse) with a copy of the petition. The court will require evidence that the respondent has been served a copy of the petition. You may notify the respondent by giving them the documents through delivery by the sheriff’s office or a process server.

After the respondent has been served, the deputy sheriff or process server will file proof of service to the courthouse. If your spouse has an attorney, you may notify him/her by sending a certified copy via the mail to the attorney. This will establish proof of service. It is your responsibility to make sure the respondent is properly served so you will want to stay in contact with the court clerk to make sure the sheriff or process server was able to locate your spouse. If you are unable to find your spouse and have them served, you have the option of “notifying through publication.” This is only allowed with the court's permission.

You will have to file specific forms requesting permission via the courts if this process of notification is necessary. Always keep copies of any documents pertaining to your case for your own records. Also, always send a copy of any communication with the respondent to the court clerk and request it be put in your divorce file.

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The Respondent Files a Response

After proper notification, the respondent will have 30 to 40 days to respond to your original petition for divorce. They will be able to state in writing if they agree or disagree with the information you included in the petition. They are required to send a copy of their response to the courts and a copy to you, the petitioner.

After you have filed, notified the respondent, and received a response to your petition, the next step is to either wait for the court to set up an interim hearing or to file a motion for an interim hearing. It is during this time that you can start the discovery process.

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