Divorce Sequence of Events

By John Stevens J.D.

Although the specific details of the divorce process vary among states, the basic framework is virtually identical. Not every divorce has to be complicated and a substantial number of couples navigate the divorce process with little conflict. Some divorce cases, however, can last for several years and be extremely complicated. If you suspect your divorce could become complicated, you may want to speak with an attorney before beginning the process.

Although the specific details of the divorce process vary among states, the basic framework is virtually identical. Not every divorce has to be complicated and a substantial number of couples navigate the divorce process with little conflict. Some divorce cases, however, can last for several years and be extremely complicated. If you suspect your divorce could become complicated, you may want to speak with an attorney before beginning the process.

Petition or Complaint

The divorce process begins with the filing of a petition or, in some states, a complaint. Typically, only one spouse can file the petition. In the petition, the filing spouse discloses when the couple was married, whether they have any minor children together and what property was acquired before and during the marriage. If the state requires a reason for allowing the divorce, commonly referred to as the "grounds" for divorce, the petition must state the reason. The filing spouse also makes a request for custody and visitation arrangements for any minor children.

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Response or Answer

After the petition is filed and a copy of the paperwork is delivered to the other spouse, the other spouse has the opportunity to file his own set of paperwork. Some states refer to this paperwork as the response, while others call it an answer. The answer includes the same information as the petition, but this set of paperwork allows the other spouse to disagree with the statements in the petition. The opposing spouse has only a limited time in which to file a response. The time varies by state. If the other spouse does not file a response, the spouse who filed the petition can file a second set of paperwork that asks the judge to automatically grant the divorce while adopting everything in the petition as true.

Mediation / Settlement Conference

After the petition and response have been filed, many states require couples to attend mediation. Mediation is an informal meeting between both spouses and a neutral party, often a retired judge, that is designed to give the couple an opportunity to resolve their differences without going to trial. Some states refer to this meeting as a settlement conference. If the couple resolves their differences, they are said to have “settled.” The couple must then submit a settlement agreement to the court for the judge’s signature

Trial

If the couple is unable to reach an agreement, the next step in the process is trial. A trial allows each side to present its version of the facts before a judge and have the judge make a final decision regarding the case. The judge will consider only those issues on which the couple disagrees. At the conclusion of the trial, the judge will render a decision about the disputed matters.

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In California, Can I Amend My Divorce Before the Marital Status Is Terminated?

References

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The Retraction of a Divorce Filing

A divorce is not finalized until a judge signs off on the divorce decree and grants a final judgment in the case. Until that point, you and your spouse can opt to terminate the divorce and keep your marriage intact. The method you use to retract your divorce filing will vary depending on when and how you withdraw the petition. State laws differ with regard to the exact forms you must use and the requirements you must meet before you can retract a pending divorce.

What Happens After You File for an Uncontested Divorce in Georgia?

An uncontested divorce in the state of Georgia requires the agreement of both spouses as to property division, spousal and child support, and visitation. Once both spouses sign off on the Martial Settlement Agreement, the judge may approve the divorce without any further action by the parties. If a final hearing is required, only one spouse appears before the judge to obtain the judge's signature on the divorce decree, after which the divorce is final.

What Happens in Minnesota If a Divorce Becomes Defaulted?

In Minnesota, a divorce defaults when one spouse refuses or neglects to become legally involved in the process. If he is served with a divorce petition and does nothing, the divorce will eventually default. This generally means that the court will give the spouse who filed for divorce everything she requested. Ignoring divorce papers does not mean the divorce will go away. It usually means the divorce will happen more easily, because one spouse is not involved to contest any of its terms.

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