What Is the Process Involved in Getting a Divorce from Start to Finish?

Divorce can be a complex legal process. Each state has its own rules regarding getting a divorce, but most follow the order listed below.

Filing of Forms

The form that officially begins the process is the divorce or petition. This legal document sets out the reason why one of the parties is pursuing a divorce and also establishes that one or both of the parties meets the requisite residency requirement. A summons may also be required. The actual court where the case has been filed may require that specific forms be filed with the court.


A process server or other qualified individual serves the other spouse with the papers that the complaining party filed with the court.


The party who was served has a specific timeframe in which to provide an answer to the complaint, such as 30 days.


Either at the same time as filing the other forms with the court or within a timeframe provided by the court, the complaining party may be required to complete certain documents pertaining to their financial information and file them with the court. These forms often disclose information about the spouses’ assets, debts, income and tax returns. The other spouse may also be required to complete such disclosures. The spouses must complete this step within a certain timeframe designated by the court, such as 60 days.


If both spouses have attorneys, the attorneys may engage in discovery. This is the process of gathering information about the other side in contemplation of litigation. In a divorce case, discovery may consist of asking the other party questions about the assets that they have, their parenting and other issues related to the divorce. They may also ask for the production of certain evidence that they are legally required to obtain, such as financial documents, medical records or school records.


Mediation does not necessarily occur in every case. However, some states require that the spouses first go through the process of mediation before they will hear the case in court. Mediation provides a way for the spouses to attempt to reach an agreement without court intervention with a neutral facilitator’s help.


At this stage, the spouses may reach an agreement regarding material terms of the divorce. These issues may include decisions about child custody, visitation, child support and spousal support. They may also create an agreement pertaining to the distribution of their assets. If there is such an agreement, the spouses will present this agreement to a proposed judgment in the case.

Default Judgment

In the event that the defendant did not provide an answer as required, the other party may have to wait a requisite period of time. Then, the complaining party may ask for a default judgment for all of the relief that he or she requested in the divorce complaint.

Contested Cases

If the other party has provided an answer but the spouses are not able to reach an outside agreement, the case proceeds to trial. A court date will be set on the docket. You may have additional forms that you need to complete before your case is heard, such as requesting the judge to make orders concerning property or custody. A judge is usually the trier of fact. He or she may be responsible for establishing that the spouses have met the grounds for divorce, which parent should be awarded custody, the amount of child support, the amount of spousal support (if any) and how the property should be divided. If the spouses agree on certain issues, the judge may include this agreement in the order and decide the rest of the case.

Temporary Hearings

Some states recognize that divorces can take a long time and individuals need some clarity while they wait. As such, they may have temporary hearings to establish such issues as who should have use of the marital home, with whom the children should reside, how much child support should be ordered, whether orders should be made to restrict certain financial transactions and whether one spouse should be required to pay for the other spouse’s legal fees.

Separate Trial

Some jurisdictions also allow for a faster process to dissolve the actual marriage while not fully deciding other issues involved in the marriage, such as financial considerations. In these types of cases, the court decides whether or not to end the marriage while other issues are still pending.

Final Judgment

Once the judge makes a final decision regarding the divorce, the court clerk will mail it to each spouse with a file stamp on it.

Provided by HG.org

Disclaimer: Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication at the time it was written. It is not intended to provide legal advice or suggest a guaranteed outcome as individual situations will differ and the law may have changed since publication. Readers considering legal action should consult with an experienced lawyer to understand current laws and.how they may affect a case.

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