If a husband or wife wishes to terminate his or her marriage, either party may file for a divorce in a court that maintains jurisdiction over the proceeding. To start, the husband or wife should familiarize himself or herself with the laws of the state in which he or she resides. Some states will only hear divorce cases if one of the parties meets a minimum residency requirement. Other state may impose additional requirements, such as requiring the parties to first be legally separated for a certain amount of time before the divorce suit will be allowed to proceed.

In a divorce proceeding, the court will terminate the marriage and determine the rights and responsibilities of the divorcing parties regarding child custody, child visitation, child support and spousal support (alimony). The court will also redistribute the marital assets, including bank accounts, retirement accounts, pensions, real property, and cars. A judge may decided on the terms of the divorce or the parties settle the terms themselves with the assistance of a mediator.

A divorce differs from an annulment in that a divorce terminates a marriage whereas an annulment treats a marriage as if it was never legally valid. Grounds for an annulment may include bigamy, force, fraud, incapacity, incest, prior existing marraige, underage or unsound mind.