Legal Guide

A Step-by-Step Guide to Divorce

Divorce is often challenging and painful as it comes with emotional and financial trauma. It also involves navigating a complicated legal process. While no two divorce proceedings are precisely the same, most have the same general format. 

This article discusses the procedures for divorce. 

Step One: File the Divorce Petition

A divorce petition signals the commencement of the divorce process. A spouse (the petitioner) must file a petition demanding the court to end the union. It does not matter if the other party agrees to the divorce. 

The divorce petition must include these essential factors:

State’s Residency Requirements: A statement must confirm that at least one spouse meets the state's residency demands for divorce. States generally require one of the spouses to live in the jurisdiction for three months to one year before being eligible to file a divorce petition. Your petition is only valid if it meets the state's residency requirements.

An Acceptable Reason for Divorce: Every state has legal or acceptable reasons for divorce. It also depends on whether you are filing a no-fault or at-fault divorce. Examples of no-fault grounds are incompatibility, irretrievable breakdown, and irreconcilable differences. At-fault reasons include adultery, infertility, emotional or physical abuse, criminal conviction, mental illness, impotence, abandonment, and substance abuse. 

Your petition must also satisfy any other statutory information your state demands. 

Step Two: Demand Tentative Court Orders

Courts understand the impracticality of waiting several months for a judge to conclude a divorce in some circumstances. For instance, an elongated divorce process will negatively affect you if you are a stay-at-home parent who financially depends on your spouse to raise your kids. Thus, you can approach the court for temporary orders on child custody, spousal support, and child support when you file for divorce. 

The court will hold a hearing, collate information from both sides and rule on the request. Judges often swiftly grant the temporary order, which remains valid until the court orders otherwise or completes the divorce process. 

Step Three: File Proof of Service

You must provide a copy of your divorce petition and temporary orders to your partner and file a "proof of service" with the court. This document informs the court that you met the statutory demands for giving your estranged partner a copy of the divorce petition. The judge can only do something about your case if you fulfill all these requirements. 

This step can be seamless if your spouse agrees to the divorce and signs an acknowledgment of service. But if otherwise, the process can be challenging and overwhelming as your partner sets out to frustrate the entire process. Engaging a licensed professional skilled in delivering documents to unyielding parties is advisable. 

After receiving the paperwork, your spouse must file a response to the petition within a given period. The judge may give a "default" judgment if they fail to respond within the specified time, and reversing such judgment is costly and overwhelming. The respondent can question the grounds for an at-fault divorce and allegations raised in the petition. 

Step Four: Negotiate a Settlement

Unless you and your estranged partner agree on fundamental issues like child custody, support, and property division, you must negotiate a settlement. The court may arrange a settlement conference where all concerned parties and their attorneys meet to sort the issue. 

Sometimes, the court schedules a mediation with an objective third party who can help resolve outstanding cases. Mediation is helpful in saving time, stress, and finances in divorce, which is why some states mandate it. 

Step Five: Proceed to Trial if Necessary

The court must take charge if negotiations break down. A judge typically presides over a divorce trial, but a jury may sometimes settle it. Whatever the case is, both parties will present their evidence and call witnesses to solidify their claims on custody, property division, financial support, and other crucial matters. 

The court assesses all the proofs and testimonies and delivers its judgment. Note that divorce trials are time-consuming, costly, and require thorough preparations. That is why it is advisable to explore other alternatives like collaborative divorce, mediation, or private arbitration to terminate your marriage. 

Step Six: Conclude the Judgment 

The divorce process ends when the judge endorses the judgment of divorce. It is also known as "dissolution." It terminates the union and specifies the details of custodial roles and parenting time, asset and debt division, and child and spousal support. 

The filing partner’s lawyer often drafts the judgment if you negotiate a settlement with your estranged spouse. But the judge wields the final power if the case proceeds to trial. 

Deciding Grounds for Divorce

As stated earlier, you can file an at-fault or a no-fault divorce. Every state provides for no-fault divorces where both parties agree that neither is accountable for the need to terminate the union. But as for at-fault divorces in jurisdictions where they are in practice, partners may petition for this divorce for various reasons. 

For instance, a spouse may want to emphasize their partner's behavior as the reason for the divorce. Alternatively, they may deploy unsavory information to sway the court's decisions on child custody, asset and debt division, financial support, and other relevant matters. 

The spouse claiming allegations must prove them regardless of the reasons. Most warring spouses often involve attorneys. At-fault divorces are often more time-consuming, expensive, and complicated. To take this route, you must prepare yourself psychologically and financially. 

The Need for a Divorce Lawyer

While most states do not mandate hiring a divorce attorney, it can be a game-changer for your case. Hiring a competent divorce lawyer will help you protect your interests. Be sure to scout for a lawyer before your spouse hires one. 

“You should strongly consider hiring a lawyer if your spouse has a history of domestic violence, sexual abuse, child abuse, or substance abuse,” says Attorney Nicole C. Bikakis of Dolan Divorce Lawyers, PLLC. There is a probability that such partners will make the process challenging and emotionally stressful, or worse, physically unsafe. 

In addition, you need to understand some aspects of the law correctly. So, allow a divorce lawyer to take charge to avoid short-changing yourself. 


Divorce is typically financially and emotionally overwhelming; however, the process can be better if you understand the various steps. 

As emphasized in the preceding section, it is wise to consult a divorce attorney to know the best strategies for a positive outcome. Consider liaising with a certified divorce financial analyst for insights into asset and debt valuation, property division, tax implications of divorce, and dividing retirement and pension accounts. 

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