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How to start a divorce

When it comes to the divorce process, it’s important to choose a legal path that’s compatible with your interests and situation: DIY, mediator, attorney, or a hybrid approach. Also, it can be helpful to engage a support network: trusted friends, family, and even a professional counselor—someone who can help you evaluate options and think straight about big decisions.

How to start the divorce process

Here are some steps to take as you start the divorce process. Keep in mind that every divorce is unique, and each state has different rules and procedures.

1. Initiate your divorce 

The spouse who initiates will first sign a divorce petition for dissolution of marriage. The state where you live and the date of the petition will determine how long the other spouse has to sign, usually 1–2 months. 

2. Review documents 

Once the negotiations and court dates are over, the last document you’ll sign is the divorce decree. This document, signed by a judge, outlines the terms of the divorce (how property will be divided, the nature of alimony payments, child custody details, etc.) and officially dissolves the marriage. 

3. File for divorce 

Generally, you’ll need to file a form with the court in the county and state in which you and your spouse live. You may need to include financial statements with your initial filing, a copy of your certified marriage certificate, and even information about real estate you own together or separately. You may even be asked to identify specific matters you’d like the court to resolve. 

Understanding your state’s divorce timeline for filings, discovery, hearings, and orders is critical. Generally speaking, you can find most of the forms to initiate, process, and finalize your divorce through an online search. Try your state and county government’s official websites, as well as document aggregators. You can also visit your state’s Probate and Family Court in person. 

4. Get court approval 

As with all legally binding documents, it’s important to consult your attorney before signing. If the case is resolved by mediation or voluntary settlements, you will sign a Divorce Agreement, which is approved by the judge. Your divorce will be official after the court signs a divorce decree, which is a court order that finalizes your divorce from a legal standpoint. 

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Fidelity does not provide legal or tax advice. The information herein is general in nature and should not be considered legal or tax advice. Consult an attorney or tax professional regarding your specific situation.

This information is general in nature and provided for educational purposes only.

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