Divorce Filing Process and Rules for Your State

Getting a divorce is an emotional and challenging time. It’s also a difficult legal process that varies from state to state. To file your divorce paperwork correctly – without making costly and time-consuming mistakes – consult this guide.

Divorce petitioning or filing process

Whether you’ve decided alone or with your spouse that you want a divorce, your first step is to file a petition for dissolution of marriage. Sometimes called a complaint, the divorce petition informs the court that you’re seeking a legal end to your marriage. This formally begins the divorce process that will ultimately end your marriage. 

The best way to find information on the divorce filing process in your state is to visit your local clerk of court’s website or visit them in person. Most clerks post detailed information online, so that’s a convenient first place to look. 

If you and your spouse agree on all issues, including the division of property and debt, you can file for an uncontested divorce. This means you won’t have to negotiate any terms or go to trial to have a judge decide how to divide your property. But you must still file a petition and, in most cases, serve the petition on your spouse.

What divorce filing fees will I need to pay?

As with any court proceeding, you’ll need to pay filing fees when you file for divorce. These fees vary based on location but are usually a couple hundred dollars. To find the exact filing fee for your state, you can visit your local clerk of court’s website where they will outline the fees necessary to file a divorce petition. 

Here are a few examples of filing fees:

  • California: $435-$450
  • Colorado: $230
  • New York: $210 for uncontested; $435 if contested
  • Texas: $250-$401, depending on your location
  • Utah: $310+ 

Note that every state also provides waivers for these fees. If you qualify for a reduction or elimination of divorce filing fees based on your income or other financial circumstances, you may ‌file at no cost. You can find additional information from your local clerk of court. 

Process serving requirements

In any court proceeding where parties are involved, the documents must be formally served on the other party. So, if you’re filing a petition for dissolution of marriage, even if your spouse is aware and agrees, you will need to serve those documents on your spouse. 

When you file the petition with the court, they’ll provide you with copies that you must have served on your spouse. It’s convenient to use a professional process server for this, as they will provide you with a notarized document swearing to the fact that they personally handed your spouse the petition for dissolution and any accompanying documents. That’s vitally important, even in an uncontested divorce, because in most circumstances, the court won’t proceed without your spouse’s knowledge of what’s happening. 

When you serve your spouse in an uncontested divorce, they can waive service. But you must still inform them of what’s happening and provide them with copies of the documents. In a contested divorce, it’s even more important that you make sure your spouse gets copies of the divorce petition. If you don’t, or if you decide to simply not provide them, a judge would look unkindly on that inaction, and it could hurt your divorce outcome.

In some states, you may also be able to use a sheriff’s deputy or any other disinterested party over the age of 18 to serve your spouse. Here are a few state examples to illustrate how it works:

  • In Colorado, the state permits service via process server (hand delivery) or certified mail with a signed green return receipt.
  • In Texas, you must use a process server first, or certified mail. If that doesn’t work, you can then get permission from the court to serve your spouse another way—even by email or social media.
  • In Utah, a person can be served by anyone over the age of 18, but service must be done in person or by certified mail.
  • In California, service is only permitted by hand delivery or certified mail.
  • In New York state, an adult other than the plaintiff (spouse who files first) must serve the defendant spouse – spouses can't serve each other. If serving them outside the state of New York, the person serving the papers must be a New York resident.

In every instance, you must provide proof to the court that your spouse has received the divorce papers. If you can’t prove that, you’ll need to request direction from the court on how to proceed toward a default divorce. 

Residency requirements before you can file for divorce

Every state has residency requirements before you can file for divorce. In some states, you must have lived anywhere in the state for a certain amount of time. In other states, you must have lived in the specific county where you plan to get divorced for a certain number of months.

States impose residency requirements to make sure both you and your spouse are subject to their jurisdiction. States are looking to prevent one spouse from moving across a state line and trying to get a divorce with a spouse still living in another state. 

To find your state’s requirements, you can view the court website for your county. Here are a few quick examples of time requirements:

  • In Colorado, both of you must have been Colorado residents for 90 days or more before filing for divorce.
  • In Texas, one of you must have lived in Texas for at least six months before filing for divorce and have lived in the county where you’re filing for at least 90 days.
  • In Utah, one of you must have been living in Utah for at least three months prior to filing for divorce.
  • In California, one of you must have lived in California for at least six months and lived in the county where you’re filing for at least three months.
  • In New York, there are several ways to meet the residency requirement: (1) At least one spouse has been living in New York continuously for at least two years; (2) At least one spouse has lived in New York continuously for at least one year and (a) you got married in New York, (b) you lived in New York as a married couple, or (c) the fault grounds happened in New York; (3) Both spouses are residents of New York the day the divorce case is filed and the grounds for your divorce happened in New York.


Cooling-off period for your state

A cooling-off period is a state-required amount of time that must elapse between when you file for divorce and when you receive your final divorce decree. The idea is that couples may reconcile during this period. Although reconciliation doesn’t often occur, this cooling-off period still exists in most states. 

To find the cooling-off period for your state, you can look at your state court website or contact your local clerk. Here are some examples:

  • Colorado: 91 days
  • Texas: 60 days
  • Utah: 30 days
  • California: 6 months
  • New York: There is no waiting period

While California has a long cooling-off period, some states, like Maryland, require a full year to pass. For most couples, once you know divorce is the right solution, you want it over quickly. In other states, however, you may be able to get everything done quickly and still have to wait longer, depending on where you live. 

Hello Divorce was designed to provide the guidance you need to file for divorce correctly in your state. We’re proud of the fact that we offer plans that don’t break the bank, too. If you know divorce is the next step, you likely want to start the process soon so the cooling-off clock starts ticking and you can move on to the next phase of life.

Co-Founder & President
Divorce Preparation, Divorce Process, Divorce Guidelines, Legal Insights

Heather is Hello Divorce's co-founder, President and Chief Content Officer, and our resident expert on divorce rules, procedures and guidelines across the states. Heather uses her content background, deep legal knowledge, and coding skills to author most of our state-specific divorce software. Heather joined Hello Divorce two months into a planned year-long vacation from the start-up world because she was convinced that the legal world is one of the only things left that truly needed disruption. Since her expertise (obsession) is making complex, frustrating processes easier – and even enjoyable – for consumers, Heather leads the product, customer service, marketing, and content teams at Hello Divorce.

Heather has a Master's in Journalism from Northwestern University and a BA from the University of Notre Dame. Heather lives in California with her husband, two kids, and too many pets. You can often find her answering Hello Divorce's free info calls on weekends, and in her free time, she dabbles in ukulele, piano, and electric bass.