Divorce Process

What Happens in a Divorce?

There are sometimes significant differences in the divorce process that depend on a couple’s unique situation and on the divorce statutes of the state where the couple is divorcing.

A Couple’s Circumstances

If a couple has been married for a short time, have no kids, have little or no assets and little or no debts, and they are in agreement about all aspects of their parting, the divorce process is much less involved compared to the process for a couple with children, significant assets and/or debts, or issues that are the basis of serious disagreement.

In addition, if one of the spouses filed for the divorce without telling the other, the unsuspecting spouse who received the divorce summons may respond by doing whatever he or she can to prolong the divorce process and delay or prevent the divorce.

State and County Rules

For a full explanation of the divorce process in your state —and even in your county — it’s best to consult a local divorce attorney who can tell you exactly what you need to know. However, the typical steps in the divorce process in most states are as follows:

Filing a Petition

The first step in a couple’s divorce process is filing the divorce petition. Even when both spouses agree to get divorced and agree on the details, one of the spouses has to be the one to file a petition with the family law court asking for the divorce. That spouse is “petitioning the court,” or asking the court to consider the divorce.

The petition will give the “grounds,” or reason, for the divorce. The grounds for divorce differ among the states. Most states allow for some type of ” no-fault” divorce based on grounds such as “irreconcilable differences.” Only a few states still use fault-based grounds such as mental cruelty, adultery, or abandonment. Your divorce attorney can tell you more about grounds in your state, and whether it is advisable to file for divorce on fault grounds.

Temporary Orders

In cases where one spouse depends on the other for financial support, or if a spouse will have custody of their children, that spouse can ask the judge overseeing the divorce for a temporary order for support and/or custody. The temporary orders work to keep the family’s situation stable until the divorce is worked out.If the spouse seeking the temporary order is the same spouse who files the petition, he or she should file the petition and request for temporary order(s) at the same time. If the spouse seeking the temporary order(s) is not the spouse who filed the divorce petition, he or she should file the request for the temporary orders as soon as possible. Temporary orders are granted within a few days in most cases, and they remain in effect until a full court hearing on the divorce is held.

Service of Process

The spouse who files for divorce also needs to file proof of service of process. This step in the divorce process is to prove that the other spouse received a notice of the divorce petition. If the spouses agree on the divorce, getting the proof of service is not difficult. The petition can be delivered to the spouse or to his/her attorney. If the ‘receiving’ spouse is not locatable, the court system has guidelines that must be met describing what a petitioner has to do to prove that he or she made his/her best effort to locate the spouse.


The spouse who receives service of process must then file a response to the petition. If the divorce was filed using fault-based grounds and the responding spouse wants to dispute the grounds, he or she needs to say so in the response. He or she may choose to dispute the facts that are alleged as the grounds or to assert a defense to the grounds. If there is any disagreement regarding property division, child or spousal support, child custody, or another issue, this can be described in the response.


If the spouses don’t agree on all the issues, or if the respondent spouse does not want to get divorced, the spouses are encouraged by the court to try to negotiate their differences. A court may schedule one or more settlement conferences to move them toward a resolution of the issues. The divorce process may get bogged down for some time at this point.

If the couple has children and they disagree on child custody and visitation, the judge may also order mediation and an evaluation of the children and parents by a social worker. The judge may also appoint a “guardian ad litem,” an attorney whose sole job is to represent the children.


Any issues that the spouses cannot resolve themselves will have to be decided at a trial before a family law judge. A divorce trial can be expensive and time-consuming, but for some couples, it’s unavoidable. The length of time that a couple must wait for their trial to be scheduled differs from state to state and among family law courts within a state.

Order of Dissolution

The “order of dissolution” finalizes the divorce, spelling out how the couples’ property and debts are to be divided, whether and how much spousal and child support are awarded, the details of child custody and visitation, and any other issues relevant to the divorce.

If the spouses negotiated their own resolution to all of the issues, they or their attorneys draft order of dissolution and submit it to the court for approval. In cases with a divorce trial, the court will issue an order of dissolution at the end of the trial.

Contact a Divorce Attorney in Your Area

The divorce process can be complex, but an experienced attorney can help you move through the process and ensure your interests are maximized. Consult a qualified divorce attorney who can help you through this difficult time.

Uncontested Divorce

When a couple has decided to end their marriage, an uncontested divorce is an option in all 50 states. The spouses do not need to be in complete agreement about every aspect of the divorce to get an uncontested divorce; they merely need to have a low level of disagreement and feel that they can...