Getting a divorce
or an annulment is an important decision. A divorce is the way to
legally end your marriage. An annulment is the way to have the Court
declare that your marriage never existed. Before you decide
to get a divorce or annulment, you may want to meet with a family counselor.
A counselor can help you identify problem areas in your marriage and help
you decide whether you should get a divorce or annulment. If you do decide to
get a divorce or annulment, we recommend that you speak to an attorney.
We understand that not everyone can afford an
attorney. If you have a low income, you MAY be eligible for free
legal services. To determine if you are eligible for legal services, call the Legal Help Link at (302) 478-8850 in New Castle County
and 1-888-225-0582 in Kent and Sussex Counties.
You can also refer to the Attorney Roster located in the Resource Centers in each courthouse. The attorney roster is a list of attorneys who practice family law in Delaware.
If you decide to represent yourself, it is called
“pro se” representation. “Pro se” means “for one’s
own behalf” or “appearing for oneself.” Representing yourself may
take a lot of time, may be difficult and may be confusing. Please
be aware that even though you are not an attorney, the Family Court will
expect you to follow the same rules and regulations that the attorneys have to follow. The Court will not allow you to skip any procedures because
you did not know how or when to do something.
The Family Court will provide you with general
information to help guide you through the process. Please remember
that COURT STAFF CANNOT GIVE YOU LEGAL ADVICE. Court staff cannot tell you how to protect your interests or make recommendations about what you should do. Only a lawyer can provide that type of information. If at any point in the divorce process you are not sure about representing yourself, you should talk to an attorney. Whether you represent yourself or hire an attorney the process will move faster if you and your spouse can reach an agreement regarding as many issues as possible before you begin the divorce or annulment process.
Who may file for Divorce or Annulment?
You or your spouse may file for Divorce or Annulment if:
Marriages and Civl Unions: Either you or your spouse has resided (lived) in Delaware for at least 6 months immediately preceding filing for divorce or annulment; OR Either you or your spouse has been stationed in Delaware as a member of the military for at least 6 months immediately preceding filing for divorce or annulment
Civil Unions Only: You and your spouse do not live in Delaware and your state of residence does not allow civil unions to be dissolved AND your civil union was solemnized in Delaware.
Furthermore, before you file for divorce, you and your spouse must be legally separated. Under Delaware law, in order to be legally separated. You can still be separated if you live in the same house so long as you do not share the same bedroom with your spouse or have sexual relations with your spouse.
How long until the divorce can be granted?
The Court will not proceed with the divorce process until you and your spouse have been separated for at least 6 months, unless you are filing for divorce on the grounds of misconduct. Some of the grounds of misconduct include: physical, mental or psychological abuse, adultery and desertion. If you are filing on the grounds of misconduct, then you do not have to be separated for any specified period of time. However, be aware that you must prove any allegations of misconduct by presenting evidence of the misconduct to the Court before a divorce will be granted on this ground.
Also, if you and your spouse have children together, you must attend a Parent Education Class. The Court will not proceed with the divorce process until all of the required certificates of completion from the Parent Education Class have been submitted to the Court. If you have children, you should enroll in the Parent Education Classes early to ensure that the divorce process is not delayed because of your failure to take the Parent Education Class. Click here for a listing of Approved Education Seminars for Separated and/or Divorcing Parents.
Where Do I File for Divorce or Annulment?
If you are seeking a divorce or annulment from a marriage, you must file the Petition for Divorce/Annulment in the county where either you or your spouse lives. If you are seeking a divorce or annulment from a civil union, you will need to determine which of the following scenarios applies to you and file in the appropriate county:
- Neither you or your spouse have ever lived in Delaware, and you are seeking to divorce from a civil union solemnized in the State of Delaware, you may file in Family Court in any county if your state of residence does not permit you to divorce.
- Neither you or your spouse currently live in Delaware, but one or both of you have in the past, and you are seeking a divorce from a civil union solemnized in the State of Delaware, you must file in the county in which one or both of you last resided.
Addresses for the Courthouses in each county are listed below.
Family Court of the State of Delaware
in Kent County
400 Court Street
Dover, Delaware 19901
Family Court of the State of Delaware
New Castle County
500 N. King Street
Wilmington, Delaware 19899
Family Court of the State of Delaware
in Sussex County
22 The Circle
Georgetown, Delaware 19947
Are there different types of Divorce and Annulment proceedings?
Delaware law allows for different types of divorce and annulment. Divorces and Annulments can be Contested or Uncontested. Uncontested divorces can be decided in two ways. The different types of divorce are described below:
- Contested Divorce or Annulment: If the Petition for Divorce/Annulment is contested, in other words the person responding to the petition challenges material information in the petition by filing an Answer, the matter will automatically be scheduled for a hearing.
- Uncontested Divorce or Annulment: If the person responding to the petition does not file an Answer within 20 days of receiving the Petition for Divorce/Annulment OR files an Answer agreeing with the request for a divorce, the petition is uncontested. If the petition is uncontested the Petitioner, the person filing the petition, can choose what type of divorce proceeding he/she would like to have.
- The Petitioner may request that the Court decide the Petition for Divorce/Annulment based solely on the papers that are filed by both sides, without the parties appearing in Court for a hearing; OR
- The Petitioner may choose to have the Court decided the Petition for Divorce/Annulment after holding a hearing which the Petitioner must attend and the Respondent may attend.
The Court will use the same standard for granting a divorce regardless of the type of divorce that is chosen; however, different filing requirements exist for each type of divorce.
What information is available to assist me in filing for Divorce?
The Family Court
has developed simple, straightforward packets that contain instructions explaining what forms you need to file, how to complete the forms and sample forms to which you can refer. THe Court also provides answers to frequently asked questions (called FAQ's) and other informational materials to help you with the divorce process. The same informational materials can be used if you would like to have your marriage annulled.
Family Court has two Instruction Packets pertaining to Divorce and Annulment. The following packets are available in the Resource Centers for a nominal fee. They are also available on the Family Court web site for free. The Divorce/Annulment Instruction Packet will assist people who are filing a Petition for Divorce/Annulment to start the divorce process. The Answer to Petition for Divorce/Annulment Instruction Packet will help litigants who have been served with a Petition for Divorce/Annulment and need to file a response. You may click on the links to the left to view the instruction packets online.
The informational resources provided are NOT designed to tell you how to protect your rights. If you would like to find out how to protect your rights, you should speak to an attorney. Furthermore, just because you properly complete the forms, this does not necessarily mean that the Family Court will give you (grant) what you want. It is up to you to prove at the Court Hearing why the Court should grant you what you want.