It’s a strategic decision whether to file for divorce before your spouse does, and one you might be able to avoid if you can file an uncontested divorce.
Is it important who files for divorce first when it’s time to end your marriage? It may be able to: When it comes to deciding some issues in a divorce, the non-moving spouse (the spouse who does not file for divorce) may be at a disadvantage.
Why Is It Important to File for Divorce First?
One (or both—more on joint filing later) spouse must file a divorce petition with the court to begin the divorce process. The petitioner is typically referred to as the “petitioner,” while the non-filing spouse is referred to as the “respondent.”
If you know there’s no way to reconcile, filing first may provide you with some strategic advantages, such as:
The location of the court is your choice. The petitioner gets to choose the jurisdiction (place) for the divorce procedures as long as the petitioner follows state and municipal regulations about where a divorce can be filed. Many states have a residence requirement in place to prevent either spouse from filing for divorce in a state or county that favors one spouse over the other. In Michigan, for example, the filing spouse must have lived in the state for at least 180 days and in the filing county for at least 10 days before the court will consider the divorce petition. (Michigan Comp. Laws, Section 552.9 (2021)) If your spouse files first and lives 100 miles away, you’ll have to travel to their courtroom for any divorce-related matters, which will take more time and money than if you filed first in the court closest to you.
Control over the divorce’s progress. The spouse who files for divorce usually has a little more say in how quickly the divorce proceeds. By filing first, you’ve started the process at your leisure, while your husband is forced to answer according to the court’s schedule. You’ll then have time to plot your next move while your spouse is working on a response.
The opportunity to make a good first impression. The petitioner’s statement concerning the grounds (reasons) for the divorce is included in the original divorce filing. The claims in the petition will be the court’s first exposure to information about the case—and if you file first, it’s up to your spouse to change the court’s first impression.
The first chance to place a temporary order. Before notifying the other spouse of the initial divorce petition, the spouse who files first might seek the court for temporary orders. These orders may place restrictions on what each spouse can do with marital finances or property, provide protection for one spouse against the other, award temporary child custody, or provide temporary child or spousal support. Non-filing spouses will have the opportunity to respond to any requests for orders, but they must do so before or at the same time as their petition response. Non-filing spouses can’t get their own temporary orders until they’ve responded to the petition.
Furthermore, the petitioner will be the first spouse to submit their case at trial in many courts. Being the first to speak at a trial isn’t always advantageous: it allows the opposing side to hear your arguments and prepare a rebuttal.
Should I Hire a Lawyer?
In some circumstances, both spouses can come together and make difficult divorce-related decisions without the assistance of an attorney or going to court. There’s no need to hire an attorney if you know you won’t be able to work things out with your husband. However, you may wish to employ an attorney to assist you in negotiating with your spouse or his or her counsel.
Even if you opt to handle your divorce on your own, you can still seek legal advice. An attorney can assist you evaluate if filing first would be advantageous in your instance during a consultation.
Is it always the case that one spouse files first?
Depending on your state’s rules, you may be able to file a “joint” divorce petition (also known as an uncontested or collaborative divorce in some jurisdictions), which implies that both spouses agree to the divorce as well as all divorce-related matters. The couple drafts a divorce settlement agreement and attaches it to their petition. In many states, an uncontested divorce is more efficient than a contested divorce, saving time, money, and relationships.
The following details must be included in your divorce settlement agreement:
- the reason for the divorce (grounds)
- each spouse’s portion of the filing fees at the court
- how you’ll split up your marriage assets and debts
- whether one spouse will pay spousal support, and if so, how much and for how long
Which spouse will be the primary caregiver for any young children (custodial parent)?
- a timetable for the non-custodial parent’s parenting time or visitation, and
- the amount of child support to be paid by the non-custodial parent
In most states, the court will approve a divorce if both spouses agree to all of the terms in writing. When minor children are involved, the court may ask the judge to carefully scrutinize the terms before approving them. Nonetheless, the court will allow the custody and support arrangements as long as they are in the best interests of the children.
Mediation Can Assist You in Filing a No-Fault Divorce
Divorce mediation is one option to avoid the headache of deciding whether or not to file for divorce before your spouse. You and your spouse meet with a neutral professional mediator to resolve the issues in your divorce, either in person or online. You will have a written settlement agreement to present to the court at the conclusion of a successful divorce mediation, and you will be able to proceed with an uncontested divorce.
If either spouse disagrees with any of the divorce terms, the case becomes contested, and the pair must follow the state’s contested divorce procedures.