The first official step in the divorce process is filing the divorce complaint. The complaint generally outlines the grounds for divorce (whether fault-based or summed up neatly under a category such as “irreconcilable differences”) and states what the petitioning spouse seeks in the divorce (known as “relief”). It is also used to officially give the defendant spouse notice that a divorce action has been commenced.
Usually, the complaint is completed with the help of an attorney. If the divorce is uncontested and generally free of complications, the spouse filing for divorce may be able to do so without an attorney—knowing, of course, that if problems arise or the divorce becomes contested, an attorney should probably be consulted.
The complaint is usually filed with the county clerk in a county where one of the spouses is a resident. The clerk will charge court filing fees when the complaint is filed. Those too poor to afford the fees may apply for a filing fee waiver (often called a “poor person order”).
After the complaint is filed, the defendant spouse will be “served” with it. That basically means the papers will be officially given to the defendant spouse, giving him/her official notice that the divorce has been filed. Depending on the jurisdiction, the papers may be served by a sheriff’s deputy, a professional process server, or another party.
It is then up to the defendant spouse to file a response to the complaint.
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