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Topics to Cover in Divorce Papers: Writing a Petition
Basics: What is a Divorce Petition?
At its most fundamental level, a divorce petition is a formal request asking the court to dissolve you and your spouse's marriage. The length and contents of your divorce petition will be contingent on a number of factors, including:
- Whether you have children
- Whether you own property together
- Joint debts
- Joint bank accounts
- Joint business ventures
- The state where you live
- The circumstances of your divorce
- You and/or your spouse's health
In some cases, divorce petitions are simple enough to prepare yourself, without any outside legal assistance. This is generally the case when both you and your spouse mutually agree to divorce and do not have any disputes about how to divide up your marital assets. However, if you own a home together, have children, or any situation that you cannot resolve on your own, you may need to consult an attorney, as your divorce papers may become much more complicated.
General Contents of Divorce Papers
At the beginning of your divorce papers, you will generally need to state that you are filing your petition with the intent to permanently end your marriage. However, in some states, you may be required to separate for a period of six to twelve months before the court grants your divorce, so the phrasing of this intent in your petition will depend on your state's laws.
Additionally, you will need to state basic information about you and your spouse, including the following:
- Both of your full names and current addresses
- Both of your respective dates of birth
- The names and dates of birth of all children born from your marriage or that you adopted together while you were married
- Where the children are currently residing, if you are married
- The date and place where you were married
- If you are already maintaining separate residences, the date on which you separated.
Generally, you must file for divorce in the city and county where you currently reside. If you and your spouse are already separated, you can typically choose to file in either court, if your spouse now lives in a new area. In your petition, you must state that either you or your spouse live in that particular area--otherwise known as jurisdiction--to show that the court has the legal right to hear your case.
Many states require you to prepare a document known as a financial affidavit as part of your divorce petition. This is particularly important if you and your spouse own a house together, have joint bank accounts, or share joint debts, such a mortgage or credit cards. Likewise, if you plan to apply for spousal support or child support, the financial aspects of your petition will be crucial in helping the judge make an informed ruling.
It is important to be thorough and entirely honest in your financial documents for your divorce. Even failing to disclose a part-time job or bank account with a small balance can have serious implications. In general, you will need to discuss any and all of the following in your financial affidavit:
- Your income from all sources, including child support from previous marriage, disability payments, or unemployment benefits.
- The balances of all your savings, checking, and retirement accounts.
- Interests in any business you own or have a stake in.
- An outline of your personal property, such as your personal jewelry and clothing or any items of significant value you owned before you married your spouse or purchased on your own, for only your use, during your marriage.
- An outline of the property you share with your spouse, including any vehicles, furniture, or other major purchases you made together during your marriage.
- Information on any exceptional expenses for you minor or dependent children, including costs for medical care or school tuition.
Additionally, if you plan to apply for child support and alimony, you will need to specifically ask for this in your divorce petition. Generally,
Grounds for Divorce
In all states, you must state in your petition the reason you are divorcing your spouse. The exact reasons you are allowed to state in your divorce papers--like other things--are different from state to state. That said, all states allow for some form of no fault divorce. This simply means that neither your spouse no you must act in a specific or egregious way in order to dissolve your marriage; instead, it accepts that sometimes, couples simply have different values, priorities, and cannot overcome their differences. Some states require you to separate for a fixed period of time before filing for marriage on no-fault grounds. If so, you may need to file a formal separation agreement before formally filing your divorce papers.
If you have legally-acceptable fault grounds for divorce, there may be no waiting period. Some examples generally universal among states include adultery, abandonment, abuse, or long-term incarceration. In each of these situations, you will need to show the court some proof of these grounds to get a divorce based on these circumstances.
In cases of abandonment, where you do not know your spouse's current whereabouts, the court will likely ask you to show proof that you have looked for your spouse and tried to serve him divorce papers. This might include trying to contact him at his last known address, calling his family members, or publishing a notice in a newspaper in the last known place where he lived.
Divorce and Finances
If you and your spouse have already prepared a formal separation agreement or have any informal agreements on divisions of assets or child custody, you will need to outline these in your divorce petition. In some cases, they will become a part of the formal divorce agreement.
If you have contested issues--such as how do divide child custody--the court may require you to attend mediation prior to your divorce hearing. If you are able to reach an agreement outside of court, you will need to submit this to the judge. If you cannot resolve your issues in mediation, the court will hold a hearing on your case, where both you and your spouse will have the chance to present your cases. If you fall into this camp, you will need to state this in your divorce petition.
If you and your spouse are currently maintaining separate residences and he is paying you any spousal support or paying for your children's care, you should include this information in your divorce petition as well.
Divorce from a Missing Spouse
When filing a divorce petition, you must sign it and date it, attesting that all the information listed in it is correct, to the best of your knowledge. If, at any point, you discover that you stated anything in your divorce papers incorrectly, you will need to bring this to the court's attention. Deliberately providing the court with false information can have serious ramifications, including criminal charges and dismissal of your case.
- The Divorce Process - Divorce - Guide - LegalZoom
Learn how The Divorce Process affects you in the Divorce Guide at LegalZoom.
- Sample Divorce Petition
Example of a simple divorce petition similar to those used by many states.
- findlegalhelp.org - Consumers' Guide to Legal Help - ABA
The American Bar Association's guide to legal help, including low-income legal resources.