Written by Avvo Staff

The complete divorce process

There are many steps in the divorce process, including filing a petition, service of process, response, temporary orders, negotiation, trial, and receiving your final divorce decree.

On average, you can expect the divorce process to last about a year.

However, it could be quicker if you go through an online divorce and can agree on topics like asset division, child custody, and alimony.

On the other hand, it could take much longer if you haven’t reached any prior agreements or expect to disagree on multiple points.

Keep in mind that this is a general guide. Each state may have specific requirements for the different types of divorce and parts of the process. If you don’t follow your state’s requirements, your divorce could take much longer, end unfavorably, or create additional legal issues.

Filing a petition for divorce

Filing for divorce requires submitting a legal document, known as a “petition for divorce” or a “complaint,” to a superior or circuit court in your county. Even if your divorce will be amicable, one party still has to file for divorce.

A divorce petition usually contains the following information:

  • Spouses by name and address
  • Date and place of marriage
  • Children by name and address
  • Length of time you lived in your state, and the county you’re filing for divorce in
  • Grounds for divorce—only a few states offer the “fault divorce” option, in which parties list the fault leading to the divorce; all states offer a “no-fault divorce” option, in which the reason can be “irreconcilable differences.”
  • Requests regarding topics like finances, property, child custody, and visitation.

Service of process

The person who files for divorce must prove that the divorce petition was given to the other spouse. It’s common for the filing person, or “complainant,” to arrange for service of process to the other spouse’s attorney.

There is also a method to get around service of process, for those wishing to divorce a missing spouse.

Judge issues temporary orders

If necessary, a judge may give “temporary orders” that tell you what to do until a final divorce decree is issued. Temporary orders cover issues like:

  • Child custody
  • Child visitation
  • Spousal support
  • Who lives in the primary residence
  • Payment of bills
  • Other immediate concerns

Responding to the petition for divorce

The other spouse has the right to respond to the petition. If they disagree, they can dispute the grounds in a fault divorce. The response can also disagree on proposed asset division, child custody, alimony, child support, or other issues.

If both parties agree to the terms of divorce, they have an uncontested divorce. This is the fastest and least expensive route.

Negotiation and mediation

If you and your spouse can’t agree on the topics to dissolve your marriage, then you have what is called a contested divorce. If you choose this route, you will then enter into a period of negotiation. The court may schedule conferences, mediation, parental evaluations or other processes to decide how to divide assets and debts, alimony payments, and child custody.

Going to divorce court

If you can’t resolve the issues during negotiation, the divorce will go to divorce court. Going to court takes longer, costs more money and has unpredictable results. So if do you expect to be going to court, make sure you’re aware of the divorce court process.

Receiving your divorce decree

Your divorce decree is a legally binding document issued by a judge. The final divorce degree covers the rights and responsibilities of all parties. Any changes to the decree are both costly and rare. Exceptions may apply in the case of child support or alimony, if the financial status of either party changes.

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