Understanding the Divorce Process: Steps to a Divorce

Did you know that every year, around four to five million people in the United States get married? However, approximately 42% to 53% of those marriages don’t last. Contrary to popular belief, though, not all divorces are messy and ugly. For starters, psychologists say it’s possible to have a healthy breakup. One of the things that may help you avoid a super stressful split is to know the divorce process better.

Remember: Family laws vary across U.S. states; for instance, in some cases, they even let divorce by default. Thus, it pays to know your options when dissolving your marriage, as it may not even have to be lengthy.

To that end, we created this guide on how divorces work and how to begin the process. So if you’re considering getting a divorce, keep reading to learn what steps to take.

How Does the Divorce Process Begin?

Filing for divorce begins with one spouse asking a family court to dissolve the marriage. This part involves filing a legal divorce petition. It’s a mandatory step that applies to all types of divorces, contested or not.

When you file a divorce petition in a state, you must include a statement about your residency there. You must also prove that you’ve lived in the state for the required time.

Most states require petitioners to have been residents for at least six months. However, Arkansas, Kansas, and Wyoming only mandate a 60-day residency. Others, like Connecticut, Iowa, and Nebraska, have a 12-month requirement.

Your petition must also include a legal reason, or grounds, for filing for divorce.

The good news is that all states allow for no-fault divorces. In that case, you don’t have to provide a specific reason why you want to dissolve your marriage. In short, there’s no need for finger-pointing or blaming each other.

Some states also accept long-term separation as a legal reason for divorce. It means not living together physically; legally, the marriage contract is still intact. To learn more about this, check out the guide with full details on RightLawyers.com.

Speaking of separation, it can also be a requirement when filing for divorce in some states. An example is Nevada; it’s a must before filing a no-fault divorce due to incompatibility. In other states, the couple must stay separated during the divorce process.

What Happens Next?

Once you’ve filed the divorce petition, you can serve the papers to your spouse. That includes a copy of the following:

  • The filed divorce petition
  • The Summons

As for who can serve your spouse the paperwork, it should be a “disinterested person.” That can be someone who isn’t a party in the divorce case or has no interest in its outcome. They should also be at least 18 years old.

Please note that family members and their significant others cannot serve the documents. Instead, it must be a neutral person, such as a private process service or a sheriff. You can also retain a divorce lawyer to serve your spouse the divorce papers.

After that, you must file proof of service with the same family court where you filed a petition. It’s a document informing the court that you gave your spouse a copy of the divorce papers.

Proof of service is a statutory requirement needed to proceed with your divorce. Thus, ensure you file this right after serving your spouse. Otherwise, the court would have to delay your case until they receive the proof.

What Should Your Spouse Do?

Upon receiving the divorce papers, your spouse must sign an acknowledgment of service. It shouldn’t be a problem if your spouse is just as willing as you to dissolve the marriage.

Your spouse must also reply to the petition within a state-prescribed period. It’s usually 20 days, but some, like California, give served individuals up to 30 days to respond.

Failure to reply to the divorce petition can be grounds for a default divorce. That means you, the one who filed for divorce, can ask the court to decide. For instance, they may proceed with the processing of your case.

Should You Prepare to Negotiate?

Yes, especially if you and your spouse have children. Your spouse may respond by disputing your request for child custody and support. In addition, your husband or wife may have something to say about marital property.

In that case, it’s best to work with your spouse to reach an agreement that suits both parties. Sometimes, you can work this out without court interference.

However, if the two of you can’t settle, the court may have to schedule a conference. You, your lawyer, and your spouse’s party will discuss the case’s status.

The court may also order mediation attended by a neutral third party. Their goal is to facilitate negotiations between you and your spouse.

How Does the Divorce Process Conclude?

The final step of a divorce proceeding is for a judge to sign the judgment of divorce. Also called an order of dissolution, it’s a legal document terminating the marriage. It also details custodial responsibilities, parenting time, and child support.

The judge may also order spousal support, also called alimony or maintenance. Moreover, the judgment may include the division of assets and debts, if applicable.

Once the judge signs the dissolution order, you and your former spouse can go your separate ways.

Start the Divorce Process With a Lawyer’s Help

As you can see, the divorce process isn’t always messy, such as in the case of an uncontested split. The same goes if it occurs by default because the served spouse failed to respond.

However, it may still be best to retain a divorce lawyer to assist you throughout the process. They can help from the start, from filing the petition to helping resolve disputes.

Are you looking for other informative family and lifestyle articles? We have other guides to share, so feel free to browse more of our blog now!

Diana Muniz
Diana Muniz

With over 20+ years of experience in a variety of corporate and entrepreneurial environments, Diana has developed a great understanding of Marketing Strategy, Brand Development, Customer Success, Public Relations and Management. Her internal drive for developing others and external brands, has allowed her to work in some of the largest cities in the world including Milan, Paris, NY, Mexico, and the Middle East. This experience has been fundamental to Diana’s success and ability to communicate cross-culturally.