Are you thinking about whether you should file for divorce? If you do get divorced, will you be able to afford an attorney? If not, you’re not alone.

The steps of the divorce process require that you are mentally and emotionally prepared. Each divorce is different in terms of the amount of conflict, but all divorces share a common piece…the first step to ending the marriage is to file for divorce with the court.

The actual procedure for how to file for divorce differs from state to state. But, no matter where you live, the first document you file to start formal divorce proceedings is the Complaint for Divorce. The Complaint is also referred to (in lawyer talk) as a pleading. Typically, there are two pleadings in a divorce case, the Complaint and the Answer, or Answer/Counterclaim. The first person to file with the court files the Complaint. The next formal document filed with the court is by the other spouse, which is called the Answer.

What Does The Complaint For Divorce Do?

The Complaint is a document that starts the divorce process and puts your case on the court’s docket, which is a fancy legal term for calendar. The court keeps a calendar of all its cases and that’s how it keeps track of everything. Your case will have a specific docket number and that number is what you reference whenever you need information about your case (status) or if you file a motion or any other paper.

The Complaint follows a specific format. Lawyers do it the formal way and people representing themselves generally complete a form the court provides that includes the main pieces of information needed by the court to file it.

Oh, and you have to pay to file a Complaint. The fees differ state to state, so call your courthouse to find out how much the fee is for you.

You know why you are getting divorced, but the court has no idea. Here’s a little insider tip; the court doesn’t care why you want to file for divorce. It’s just a formality. If you’re doing your own research on this topic, you will find that the reason why you are getting divorced is referred to as the “cause of action.”

Most states have adopted what is refereed to as a “no fault” cause of action called “Irreconcilable Differences.” Basically, this means that the marriage didn’t work out and you want a divorce. It doesn’t get into the why. Most states have a handful of different causes of action, i.e. adultery, etc., but it really doesn’t matter which one you choose. Other causes of action require additional evidence and proofs.

For example, in New Jersey if you file for divorce under Adultery, you also have to identify and serve a Complaint on the adulterer. That just costs more money and angst for you. There is no advantage to filing under one cause of action over the other. Most people file and most attorneys advise clients to file under Irreconcilable Differences.

Requirements To Get Divorced

If you want to get divorced, you can’t just go to the courthouse and file the Complaint. You have to meet certain requirements first. These differ from state to state so make sure to check the jurisdictional requirements where you live. For example, in New Jersey you have to have lived in the state for at least one year before you can file for divorce.

There is a residency requirement. Most states have them. Another requirement is that you need to know the location of your spouse and where they are currently residing. The reason for this is once the Complaint is filed, you will have to serve it on your spouse. Now, if you can’t locate your spouse, the court will have a process upon which you can still get divorced, but it’s too detailed for this article. Try to find your spouse!

You Want Relief Right?

The other main part of a Complaint for divorce is about relief. Part of the Complaint is to state what relief do you want as part of the resolution. Examples of types of relief commonly requested are alimony, custody, and division of the assets. This part shouldn’t be too detailed.

Just put enough to give your spouse notice of what you will be seeking. For example, if you are requesting alimony, you would say something like “request spousal support” or “request alimony” in the area of the Complaint where you ask for the relief you want. You wouldn’t say how much alimony you want. That comes later in the process. If you want sole custody and child support, you would include that in the relief section too.

Make sure to check to see what your state requires to be in the Complaint.

The purpose of the Complaint is to formally start your case with the court and get on the court’s docket, i.e. radar.

The details and nitty-gritty of everything comes later.


PS. If you want to learn more about how to file for divorce, check out this FREE CHECKLIST you can use to make sure you are ready to begin the process. Just click the button below to download it now.

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