Marriage marks the union of two people under the law. In Delaware, this act is permitted whether you are marrying someone of the opposite or the same sex. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Delaware had a 2.6% divorce rate per 1,000 people in 2021, which saw a 0.3% increase from the 2020 figures. In 2020, the state had 2,273 divorces, with over 50% involving marriages that lasted less than a decade. Records show that the shortest duration of a marriage in Delaware that year was 52 days.
Meanwhile, data from the Annual Report and Statistical Information for the Delaware Judiciary revealed that for the fiscal year 2022, there were 3,119 divorce and annulment filings at the family courts in Kent, Sussex, and New Castle counties.
As the people involved in the statistics above know all too well, divorce can be complex since it affects one’s finances, time, and well-being. If you wish to end your marriage with your spouse or if you have been served with divorce papers, this article will help you understand the ins and outs of the state's divorce laws. It also offers resources that can assist you in navigating the legal system.
Divorce vs. Annulment vs. Legal Separation in Delaware
Spouses planning on ending their marriage need to carefully think about their relationship before making a decision. Terminating a marital union can be complex, especially if both parties have disputes to resolve. The most common way to end a marriage is through divorce, followed by annulment.
Divorce refers to the legal process of dissolving a marriage, while annulment is an option for married individuals who want the court to declare that their marriage "never existed." If a person’s marriage becomes annulled, they can answer "no" to forms asking if they have been married before.
On the other hand, legal separation is not a court procedure similar to divorce and annulment. In Delaware, it is only a prerequisite for couples who intend to complete their divorce. In essence, legal separation is an act — and not a legal process — whereby spouses separate for at least half a year before filing for divorce. They do not necessarily need to live apart from each other; they can still be legally separated even if they live under one roof, as long as they do not share the same room and show intimacy with each other.
Is Delaware a No-Fault State When It Comes to Divorce?
The First State allows both fault-based and no-fault-based divorce. These options can only prosper if one or both spouses admit that their marriage is already "irretrievably broken."
If you are seeking a no-fault divorce, you are not required to prove that the failure of your marriage was caused by your spouse. You can just cite that it suffered an "irreparable breakdown" or that you had "irreconcilable differences." Meanwhile, in a fault-based divorce, you need to prove that the other party was at fault.
The table below lists some of the fault-based and no-fault-based grounds for divorce in Delaware:
Voluntary separation (requires mutual consent)
Conviction of a crime
Habitual drunkenness and drug use
Physical or verbal abuse
Willful refusal to meet marriage obligations
How to File for Divorce in Delaware
If you are considering ending your marital union with your spouse, equipping yourself with the proper knowledge of the state's divorce laws and processes can save you time and money. This part of the article outlines the steps to follow when filing for divorce.
1. Initiate the Divorce Process.
The divorce process starts when you, your spouse, or both of you decide to end your marital union and file for divorce. You will be required to prepare and submit one original and one copy of your divorce petition with the necessary documents attached at the Family Court in the county where either you or your spouse reside. The table below shows the required forms you need to complete.
Petition for Divorce/Annulment
Fill out Section II for divorce. For annulment, complete Section III.
Include the separation date in this format: Month, Day, and Year.
Indicate that your marriage is irretrievably broken and a reconciliation is not probable.
Check the box that represents the reason why your marriage is irretrievably broken.
Provide general information about you and your spouse.
Vital Statistics Certificate of Divorce or Annulment
Provide the information that you have indicated in Form 240. This form will go to the Division of Public Health and Vital Statistics.
Vital Statistics Certificate of Divorce or Annulment of Same-Sex Marriage
Original or Certified Copy of Your Marriage Certificate
The document must have an embossed seal or watermark, symbolizing that it is an official copy.
You can obtain a copy from the Division of Public Health and Vital Statistics, not from the Family Court.
Request for Notice Form
Indicate how you want to notify the respondent (your spouse) about the divorce petition.
In case you do not have their current address, you may ask the court to publish a notice in the newspaper after completing the Affidavit that a Party’s Address is Unknown. Note that you will have to shoulder the publishing costs related to this option.
If your spouse is out of state, you may ask the court to serve the paperwork through certified mail.
Certain situations — including not knowing the address or Social Security number of your spouse, having minor children, or being in the military — may require you to file additional forms. You must read and review each form to ensure it applies to your situation before filing it.
2. Serve or Respond to a Divorce Complaint.
Once you have filed your divorce paperwork, the court clerk will prepare a summons to be served to your spouse to notify them of your divorce petition. It will be delivered to them through the county sheriff. Information about the options available if your spouse is not in Delaware or if you do not know where they live is available in the Form 400 row in the previous section.
Your spouse will have 20 days from the date they received the summons or the date the notice was published to respond. They will be required to either deny or admit to the claims in the petition. They can also file a counterclaim, which is their own version of a divorce petition. Moreover, your spouse may request that the court deal with ancillary matters related to your divorce, such as alimony and property division.
3. Attend a Parent Education Class.
This step is only applicable to you if you have minor children. You and your spouse must complete a parent education class unless the court rules it unnecessary. You may browse through the list of court-approved education seminars for separating and divorcing parents. You may also access information at any of the state's Family Court Resource Centers. A basic co-parenting class costs $69.99, and no seminar charges over $100 per parent.
If a course you want to participate in is not on the list, you may file a motion asking the court to approve it. You just need to wait for the court’s approval before you participate because it might get denied. Once you have completed a class, you must file the original copies of your certificate of completion with the Family Court.
4. Finalize the Divorce Process.
After completing the previous steps, you will receive a notice from the court that your divorce is trial-ready in case there are contested matters. When these matters are finally settled, your divorce becomes finalized. Meanwhile, your divorce will be concluded without a trial or hearing if it is uncontested.
How Property is Divided in a Delaware Divorce
Section 1513 of the Delaware Divorce and Annulment Act states that the marital property and debt of divorcing spouses must be equitably divided, distributed, and assigned. Marital assets (such as real estate and cars) and debts (like mortgages and credit card debts) refer to all property acquired and debts accrued during your marriage.
You and your spouse must agree to the terms of the asset division before the divorce is finalized; otherwise, a judge will facilitate the distribution. If the latter takes place, the judge will consider several factors, including:
The age and health of each spouse;
The length of your marriage;
Each spouse’s contributions to the acquisition and improvement of the marital property.
On the other hand, separate property, which you and your soon-to-be ex-spouse have owned before marriage or obtained through inheritance or as a gift, is excluded from the division. However, it is important to note that presents received from each other will not be considered separate property. If you claim an item is a separate property, you must provide proof of sole title and sole maintenance or a copy of your gift tax return.
You might also wonder what happens to your pet once your divorce becomes official. In 2023, a bill amending the state code relating to companion animals in the marital property division was passed. When deciding who will continue caring for your pet, family court judges should consider their well-being, your time and effort spent with the pet during the marriage catering to their needs, and which of you two has a stronger bond with your pet.
Delaware Divorce FAQs
In this section, you will find responses to the most commonly asked questions about Delaware's divorce processes, rules, and requirements, such as cost, residency guidelines, and online alternatives. If you require additional assistance in understanding the state's divorce laws, you may also seek help from a divorce attorney in your area.
Legal Resources for Getting a Divorce in Delaware
Navigating the divorce process on your own can be stressful, especially if you are not mentally prepared to go through the legal system. If you have filed for divorce or received a summons from your spouse but are unsure of what to do next, you can use the following resources:
DELegalHelpLink.org is a public service that assists low-income locals dealing with civil cases in finding the legal help they need. It provides referral information about free or low-cost civil legal services from some of the state's nonprofit organizations and other justice community partners. The platform also offers pertinent information to individuals going through divorce and other family problems. You can access divorce process instructions and required forms on the website of Delaware LegalHelpLink.
DVLS, founded in 1981 by the Delaware State Bar Association, provides pro bono legal services to disadvantaged citizens of Delaware facing civil legal matters such as divorce. However, the organization's services for divorce are extremely limited to helping draft the necessary paperwork for victims of domestic violence seeking to end their marriage. It also cannot help with cases involving property division and alimony. If you require the assistance of DVLS, you must complete the application form online.
DivorceCare has life-changing support groups in various places that assist individuals going through the process of ending a marriage. The groups help participants heal from the trauma and pain caused by divorce. In Delaware, there are recovery support groups that conduct online and face-to-face meetings.
The Delaware Coalition Against Domestic Violence partners with organizations and businesses across the state that cater to adult victims of domestic abuse as well as children. It offers various resources, including 24-hour domestic violence hotlines, legal assistance, domestic violence shelters, and counseling and support.
CLASI is dedicated to improving lives by providing free civil legal services to disadvantaged Delaware residents, including low-income individuals and domestic violence survivors. This organization, which operates offices in Dover, Wilmington, and Georgetown, conducts interviews in person or via phone.
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