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How Do You Start a Divorce Decree?

How you start a divorce decree depends largely upon your state's marriage dissolution laws. Most states offer no-fault divorce, although some do retain the option of a fault-based one. Also, some states divide property based on the principle of equitable distribution, while others are community property states.

If you have established residency in a no-fault state, you may have to meet that state's requirement that you and your spouse first live apart for a certain amount of time. These times vary from 6 months to 5 years. In those states with an option for filing a fault divorce, there is no separation requirement provided that you can show grounds such as cruelty, imprisonment, abandonment, or adultery, among others.

Prepare for the Divorce Decree

Before starting a divorce decree, you should prepare for it:

  • Talk to your children and explain what is happening.
  • Make sure you meet the state's residency requirement.
  • Determine if you have to live apart from your spouse for a time, or if you can file for a fault divorce, if your state provides it.
  • Assemble copies of your tax returns over the past several years, along with a list of all assets, investments, pension records, wage records, and mortgage documents.
  • Determine what property you brought into the marriage or that you will need.
  • Find a place to live if you are moving out, but stay nearby to your children.
  • Review your finances and determine what you will need to live on.
  • If you have children and considerable assets and debts to be worked out, find and retain a competent divorce attorney in whom you feel confident and who will work to help amicably resolve your issues with your spouse.


Communication with your spouse is essential, unless there are serious issues such as domestic abuse or other criminal behavior. With children, you will want to establish with whom they will primarily live. Child support is determined by statute, so you can either review your state's guidelines or find a competent attorney who can do it for you.

Working out a visitation schedule with your spouse will greatly reduce the cost of your divorce, but you should agree to some flexibility. Calling your attorney every time your spouse is 15 minutes late with the children will cost you considerably.

If you need or want a separation agreement, have your attorney prepare one for you while you wait out the separation period. When the period has run, a petition or complaint for dissolution will be prepared by your attorney and served on your spouse.

Either before or after you file, you can ask the court for mediation or family counseling to discuss any disputes, seek a resolution short of divorce, seek a family assistance program if low income, or work out custody and visitation schedules. Many counties require mediation or at least encourage it in the early stages of the proceeding.

Starting a divorce decree is easy, and generally means meeting your state's residency and separation requirements, or alleging a suitable grounds for divorce in a fault option state. Preparing for it is more difficult, as is seeking common ground with your spouse. Focused attempts to achieve a consensus either personally or through mediation or professional counseling will ease the stress and anxieties associated with divorce and help your children through a very difficult time.