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The 10 main steps in the divorce process

Many people who are divorcing are not sure what to expect. Will it be contentious? What will I get to keep? What will happen to my finances? If you don’t know anything about the divorce process, the unknowns may seem overwhelming.

Some divorces are short, simple, and take only a few months; others are long, bitter, and can span several years. Although every individual divorce is different, there are a few main steps in the process that will apply to every couple. It’s important to know these steps so that you have a better understanding of what to expect from the divorce proceedings.

1. The first step for one of the spouse’s lawyers to write a petition stating the reasons for the divorce and proposing how to deal with issues like finances, property division and child custody.

2. The lawyer then files the petition in the appropriate court.

3. If necessary, the lawyer then serves the petition and a summons to the other spouse, requiring him or her to respond.

4. The served spouse then has a set amount of time to respond to the divorce petition with their own requests for handling the divorce process. If the spouse does not respond, the court assumes that he or she agrees to the divorce terms.

5. The couple and their attorneys exchange documents and legal information regarding issues like property and finances.

6. If you and your spouse agree, you can opt for mediation or settlement–this can be much less expensive, time-consuming and contentious than litigation.

7. If you and your spouse reach a settlement, you will write a settlement agreement to show to a judge.

8. The judge then hands down a divorce decree for the couple to follow. If one of the parties does not agree with the judge’s decree, then the divorce will go to trial.

9. In a trial, both spouses will present their arguments before a judge. The judge will then reach a formal decision on unresolved issues. These could include child custody, visitation, property division or alimony payments.

10. If you do not agree with the judge’s final decree, you and your lawyer can still appeal the decision to a higher court–however, if both spouses have already agreed to a settlement, it can be tough to change.

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