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Steps In A Divorce


Divorce is, unfortunately, a relatively common process today. But for many people considering or in the middle of a divorce, the process can bring many concerns and questions.

This might be due to the nature of marital and divorce laws. Both are the exclusive domain of state law. This means that each state will have its own particular laws and steps to get married or divorced. Therefore, the exact process and timeline will vary from state to state. The steps set forth below provide only a general outline of a typical divorce proceeding and may or may not reflect the exact process your divorce case will follow.

If you find yourself puzzled by the process required to get a divorce in your state, a local attorney can help. Attorneys can often be great resources for finding out what your best option may be and how to achieve your goals. To talk to a divorce attorney, just fill out the short form below.

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Step-By-Step Divorce

When you are starting a divorce, think carefully about the best way to initiate the divorce. Working amicably with your spouse, if possible, may ease the process for both of you and any children. On the other hand, being the one to file the divorce case may provide you with certain advantages, particularly in jurisdictions in which the filing party gets to choose the judge. A local divorce attorney can advise you on the factors to consider so that you can make the best decision for your particular situation.


This is the first formal step in the divorce process in most states, which may also be called a complaint. This is a legal document establishing the jurisdiction of the court and setting forth basic allegations necessary to support the petition for divorce and the relief requested, such as dissolution of the marriage, division of property, restoration of the wife's maiden name, custody of the children, child support and any other issues to be resolved.

Service of a Summons

The service of a summons is the way that one spouse legally informs the other that divorce proceedings are underway. The exact requirements vary from state to state, but the purpose is to ensure that the non-filing spouse received appropriate notice and opportunity to respond. In some states, this may be accomplished by certified mail or service may be waived by the responding party, whereas in others a process server or Sheriff's deputy must certify hand-delivery of the summons.


This is the response filed by the spouse who receives the summons. This is when the spouse who has been served is given an opportunity to dispute any of the claims made by the filing spouse. The answer will usually have a time limit that it has to have been filed by or else the court will assume that there is no dispute with what the filing spouse claimed. In some cases, additional pleadings may be necessary at this stage. For instance, if the responding spouse wishes to raise issues not mentioned in the original petition, a cross-petition may be required to get those new issues before the court in the same case.

Temporary Orders

Depending on the circumstances of a divorce case, either party may request and the judge may enter temporary orders. These orders may be entered by agreement or based on an abbreviated hearing, and typically address such issues as child support and custody pending the divorce, short-term possession of the marital residence and determination of who will be responsible for debt payments while the case is pending.


It is at this point that each spouse can use the power of the court to gather information relevant to the divorce. This most commonly involves financial records to help determine debts, assets, relative income of the parties, child support obligations and the appropriateness of maintenance. Real and personal property may be appraised by experts for either party, both parties or a neutral expert appointed by the court. The discovery process may also include additional aspects, such as depositions of potential witnesses and

Agreement or Hearing

When the discovery process is complete, the divorce can generally be finalized in one of two ways: by agreement or in a contested hearing. The process for entering an agreement and/or proceeding to hearing varies somewhat from state to state. An agreement may be the result of negotiation between the parties or reached through mediation. In some states, even couples who have reached an agreement must appear in court and submit basic evidence. Once the agreement or evidence is before the court, the judge reviews and reaches a determination on the issues before the court.


The divorce decree or decree of dissolution legally ends the marriage. In some cases, this includes rulings on all issues such as property division and child custody, whereas in some jurisdictions it is possible to have a divorce decree entered while other issues are still pending.

Connect with A Divorce Lawyer in Your Area

Each divorce case is unique, and determining what will go into each step of your case depends on the state in which you're getting divorced, the issues to be resolved and your particular circumstances. For more information on the steps you may need to take in your divorce, contact a local attorney today by filling on the divorce case review form on this page.

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