How to Divorce Someone in Prison

Ending a marriage is difficult under even the best of circumstances. But when your spouse is incarcerated, it adds even more challenges to an already stressful process. Despite the complications, you still have the legal right to divorce an inmate. Here is a guide on how to navigate divorcing someone in prison.

Reasons for Divorcing an Incarcerated Spouse

There are many valid reasons why someone might seek a divorce from a jailed partner, including:

  • The crime they committed is unforgivable, such as domestic abuse, sexual assault, or child abuse. You may feel unsafe or unable to trust them anymore.
  • Their lengthy prison sentence means you would be alone for many years during what should be the prime of your life.
  • You have grown apart after the incarceration and want different things in life now.
  • There are irreconcilable differences like substance abuse or infidelity.
  • You need closure after the trauma of having a spouse arrested and imprisoned.
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Even if you still love them, it is understandable to want to move on with your life after such a major upheaval. Do not feel guilty for prioritizing your own well-being.

Emotional Considerations When Divorcing a Prisoner

Ending a marriage under normal circumstances is emotionally difficult. When your spouse is in prison, you may feel even more overwhelmed and alone. Give yourself grace as you process complex feelings like:

  • Grief over the death of your hopes for the marriage and life together
  • Anger at your spouse for their crime(s) and situation they put you in
  • Loneliness without their emotional support
  • Shame or judgment from others about divorcing an inmate
  • Sadness for any good times you shared
  • Relief to move on from the relationship

Seek counseling or lean on trusted friends and family for support. Do not isolate yourself, despite how draining the divorce process can be.

Legal Steps for Filing for Divorce from a Spouse in Jail

The logistics of divorcing an incarcerated spouse are more complicated but still feasible if you take it step-by-step:

Establishing Residency Requirements

To file for divorce, you must meet residency requirements which vary by state. This proves you have been living in the state long enough to utilize its family courts. Online resources can help you determine the residency rules for your area.

Filing the Divorce Petition

The petition outlines information about you, your spouse, your marriage, and what you are seeking in the divorce such as asset division. Most states have printable forms available online to simplify filing pro se (representing yourself).

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Serving Divorce Papers to an Inmate

You must ensure your spouse is officially served with the divorce papers. The prison should have procedures for legal service of process. This gives the inmate a chance to respond or contest the divorce if desired.

Proceedings for an Uncontested Divorce

If your spouse does not fight the divorce, the court can grant it relatively quickly. You may be able to finalize an uncontested divorce without ever needing to appear in court.

Contested Divorce with an Incarcerated Spouse

If your spouse disputes the divorce, they can still contest it from prison. Contested cases take longer to resolve and may require you to represent yourself in court hearings.

Special Circumstances for Divorcing an Inmate

Divorcing someone in jail comes with unique concerns, including:

If There are Children Involved

Custody, visitation, and child support can be decided during the divorce. Inmate spouses typically lose custody but may fight for visitation rights. Courts determine the best interest of the child(ren).

Division of Assets and Property

Prisoners have limited earnings, so dividing marital assets like real estate or retirement funds gets complicated. You may end up with a higher percentage due to the circumstances.

Spousal Support When Divorcing an Inmate

Inmates are very rarely ordered to pay spousal support. However, in some cases the court may award you support payments out of their meager prison wages.

Life After Divorcing an Incarcerated Spouse

Once your divorce is finalized, focus on rebuilding your life:

Rebuilding Finances

File taxes as single and make financial plans without counting on their income. Seek child support if applicable. Reestablish credit/debt accounts in your name only.

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Moving On Emotionally

Surround yourself with loved ones, pursue hobbies, and create a home environment reflective of your new lifestyle. Give yourself time to heal.

Co-Parenting After Divorce

If you have children together, amicably co-parent apart from your former spouse. Support their relationship as appropriate. Put the kids first.

Getting Support During the Divorce Process

Do not try to navigate divorcing an inmate alone. Seek assistance from:

  • Divorce attorneys experienced with incarcerated spouses
  • Therapists/support groups to process the complex emotions
  • Trusted family and friends who support the divorce
  • State legal aid organizations that offer free legal help
  • Online forums for others divorcing someone in prison

With determination and support, you can successfully divorce an incarcerated spouse and move forward with your life. The situation may seem daunting, but take it step-by-step. Relief and closure will come with time.


Divorcing an incarcerated spouse presents many unique challenges. However, by being informed about the process, getting legal and emotional support, and focusing on your needs, you can successfully split from your imprisoned partner. Have compassion for yourself and realize there is a life beyond this difficult circumstance. The future holds brighter days.


How long does divorcing an inmate take?

It varies by state and case, but divorcing a jailed spouse generally takes 6-12 months to finalize if uncontested. Contested cases take 1-2 years.

Can I change the locks if my incarcerated spouse owned our home?

You typically cannot change locks or restrict access to a home co-owned with your imprisoned spouse. It requires a divorce court order.

Do I have to visit my spouse in prison during divorce?

No, you can proceed with the divorce without any in-person contact. Papers are served to them legally via the prison.

Can I take my spouse off insurance during separation?

You can remove a spouse from insurance during separation if permitted by your policy and state laws. Final divorce decree required to completely terminate rights.

Can I remarry if separated but not yet divorced?

Remarrying another person before your divorce is finalized constitutes bigamy. Wait until the divorce judgment is official.

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