How to File a Divorce in Kentucky

How to File a Divorce in Kentucky

by Edward A. Haman, Esq., July 2015

Getting divorced in Kentucky is similar to getting divorced in most other states. A divorce is called a dissolution of marriage in Kentucky. A dissolution for any married couple will accomplish two things: (1) severing the marital relationship, and (2) dividing assets and debts. If they have been married for a significant length of time and one of them will be unable to be self-supporting after the divorce, the issue of alimony may also arise. If there are minor children, they will also need to resolve issues of child custody, visitation, and support.

Residency and Where to File

In order to file for divorce in Kentucky, the person filing (the petitioner) must be a resident of Kentucky for at least 180 days. You may file in Circuit Court in the county where either you or your spouse resides.


The most simple procedure is an uncontested divorce. This is where you and your spouse can reach an agreement about the division of your property, and, if you have any children, what arrangements will be made for them. You begin the divorce procedure by preparing a document called a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage, along with various other supporting documents. For an uncontested divorce, one of these documents will be a marital settlement agreement outlining the division of assets (and your agreement regarding any children). These documents are filed with the court, and copies of them are provided to your spouse. You will attend a court hearing, at which time the judge will make sure that all of your paperwork is in order, perhaps ask you a few questions, and enter your Decree of Dissolution of Marriage.   

Grounds for Divorce

Grounds for dissolution are legally recognized reasons to get a dissolution. This is the justification for severing the marital relationship. Kentucky, like most states, has what are commonly called no-fault grounds for dissolution. Unlike most states, Kentucky does not have any fault-based grounds. To get a no-fault dissolution in Kentucky you need to state in the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage that “the marriage of the parties is irretrievably broken.”

Property Division

A dissolution involves dividing property and debts between you and your spouse. Generally, you will be able to keep any nonmarital property, which is:

  • property acquired before marriage,
  • property acquired by gift or inheritance during the marriage (and income from such property),
  • property acquired in exchange for nonmarital property,
  • property acquired by a spouse after a decree of legal separation,
  • property excluded by a valid agreement of the parties, and
  • the increase in value of property acquired before marriage (unless due to the contribution of both parties).   

All other property is marital property. If you and your spouse cannot reach an agreement on the division of your property, the judge, without regard to marital misconduct, will consider the following factors:

  • each party’s contribution to the acquisition of marital property, including contribution as a homemaker,
  • the value of the property set apart to each party,
  • the duration of the marriage, and
  • each party’s economic circumstances when the property division becomes effective, including the desirability of awarding the family home, or the right to live there for reasonable periods, to the party having custody of any children.  

Alimony in Kentucky

Alimony is called maintenance in Kentucky. Absent an agreement of the parties, the court may only order maintenance if: (1) the party seeking maintenance lacks sufficient property, considering the property division, to provide for his or her reasonable needs, and (2) is unable to become self-supporting through appropriate employment, or is the custodian of a child whose circumstances make it inappropriate to be required to seek employment. Maintenance may be ordered for a period of time that the judge finds just, after considering the following factors:

  • the financial resources of the party seeking maintenance, including the property division, and the ability to meet his or her needs independently, including whether a sum for that party as a child custodian is part of the child support order, 
  • the time necessary to acquire sufficient education or training to enable the party seeking maintenance to find appropriate employment,
  • the standard of living established during the marriage,
  • the duration of the marriage,
  • the age, and physical and emotional condition of the party seeking maintenance, and
  • the ability of the party from whom maintenance is sought to meet his or her needs while paying maintenance.

Child Custody in Kentucky

If you and your spouse have any minor children, there will have to be a custody determination. This comes down to figuring out how the children’s time will be divided between the parents, and how decisions will be made. If you and your spouse cannot reach an agreement on custody, the judge will make a decision based upon what is in the best interests of the child.

In addition to a child’s parents, in a few cases the court will also consider what is called a de facto custodian as a possible custodian. A de facto custodian is someone, other than a child’s parent, who has “been shown by clear and convincing evidence” to have been the child’s primary caregiver and financial supporter, and with whom the child has lived, for a period of 6 months or more if the child is under age 3, or for 1 year of more if the child is age 3 or older, or with whom the child was placed by the Department for Community Based Services.

Kentucky child custody law requires the judge to act in the best interests of the child, and give equal consideration to each parent and any de facto custodian. The judge must consider the following factors: 

  • the wishes of the parties, and any de facto custodian,
  • the wishes of the child,
  • the relationship between the child and parents, siblings, and other significant persons,
  • the child’s adjustment to home, school, and community,
  • the mental and physical health of all individuals involved,
  • any evidence of domestic violence which is shown to affect the child,
  • the extent to which any de facto custodian cared for, nurtured, and supported the child,
  • the intent of the parents in placing the child with a de facto custodian, and
  • the circumstances under which the child came to live with a de facto custodian.

Child Support in Kentucky

A decision must also be made about how the children will be financially supported. This almost always comes down to one parent paying money to the other. Child support is determined by taking into account the needs of the child, and each parent’s relative ability to meet those needs. This is determined by reference to the Kentucky child support guidelines.

Miscellaneous Matters

If there are minor children, a final hearing may not be held until at least 60 days after the Petition is served on the other party (the respondent). A Decree of Dissolution of Marriage may not be entered unless the parties have “lived apart” (which means they have not had sexual relations, even if they still reside in the same household) for at least 60 days. If one of the parties denies under oath that the marriage is irretrievably broken, the judge must make a finding as to whether the marriage is irretrievably broken, or continue the case for 30 to 60 days and suggest that the parties seek counseling.

LegalZoom’s Uncontested Divorce service is an inexpensive way to file for divorce if you and your spouse agree on most major issues. Otherwise, you can talk to an attorney for advice or help filing for divorce through the LegalZoom personal legal plan.