Divorce is often difficult for emotional and economic reasons. It also requires skill to navigate the legal system correctly. 

Once you’ve made the decision to go through with a divorce, you need to know what steps to take to start and finalize the process. With this in mind, we’ve compiled this guide to the steps of the divorce process.

Consult a Lawyer

Not every divorce will require an attorney, but it can certainly make the process easier. 

If the marriage was brief, and both parties are in agreement over the division of property and assets, procuring a divorce may be more straightforward. 

Other situations are more complicated. This tends to be true for long-term marriages, especially when spouses co-own property and assets. If the couple has children, a custody agreement and parenting plan must be decided on. Child support and alimony may need to be considered. 

Other considerations include: 

  • Health insurance 
  • Life insurance
  • Retirement benefits
  • Inheritance rights 
  • Allocation of debts

The complexity of these matters means that an attorney’s advice can make a big difference in the outcome you achieve. 

File a Petition for Divorce

Whether you’re working with a lawyer or not, the first step in the formal process is to file a petition for divorce. The spouse who is initiating the divorce must go to the courthouse to complete and submit the petition. 

If the divorcing spouse wants ownership of a shared home or full custody of children, this can be requested in the initial petition for divorce. 

Request Temporary Orders

This step won’t apply to every family, but it may be necessary if child custody or spousal support are concerns. When filing the divorce petition, the filing spouse can request that a judge give temporary orders regarding custody or financial support. These orders will stay in place until the divorce is finalized. 

If you are not the one filing for divorce and you are financially dependent on your spouse, you can request temporary orders once you’ve been served divorce papers. This can help ensure that you are financially provided for until a divorce settlement is reached. 

Serve the Divorce Papers

Once the petition of divorce is filed, a copy of the papers must be served to the other spouse. The divorce proceedings will begin on the date the other spouse receives notice. 

The divorcing spouse cannot give the divorce papers directly to their spouse. Instead, the papers must be served by an uninvolved third party. 

Serving papers is a formal step in the legal process. If this is not done correctly, proceedings cannot begin. It’s common to hire a process server to complete this step. 

Responding to Service

Once divorce papers have been served, the other spouse must respond. If the terms of the divorce are uncontested, the papers can be signed and returned to court. 

If the other spouse is not happy with the proposed terms, they can complete a response disputing the petition. This paperwork is also completed and submitted to the courthouse. 

If the spouse who has been served wants to work with an attorney, they can decide to move forward with the response under an attorney’s guidance.  

Negotiating Settlement

Spouses will be first encouraged to come to an agreement over points that can be settled out of court through the process of mediation. If both parties can agree, the terms of the divorce will be written up and passed by a judge. 

If the spouses cannot agree on the terms of a settlement, they’ll go before a judge, who can provide orders to divide assets or assign parenting time. 

Divorce Trial

At the trial, the judge will consider the requests of both spouses, and the overall terms of their marriage. After making a ruling, the judge will finalize the divorce and the settlement will go into effect. 

The Same Steps for All

Divorce is common, but it can be complicated. Some steps will not apply to all divorcing couples. Some spouses may choose to pursue divorce without the aid of an attorney, and some will be able to settle terms with a mediator. 

It may not be necessary to request a temporary order. However, every divorce will involve an initial petition, a response, negotiation, and finalization. Having an experienced attorney on your side can help these steps to get done on time and in the correct manner.