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.

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.

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.

Divorce is never easy, but we can help. Learn More

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


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.

Divorce is never easy, but we can help. Learn More
Can the Opposing Party File for Decree of Divorce?


Related articles

What Happens If Divorce Papers Go Unsigned?

During the divorce process, the court and individual spouses’ attorneys ask both parties to sign agreements, petitions and affidavits. If one spouse refuses to sign the divorce papers, it is still possible for the divorce to proceed. Such refusals usually slow down the divorce process and may lead to additional hearings, trials or mediation sessions, but will not preclude the couple from ending the marriage.

What Happens if a Divorce Respondent Doesn't Answer in Missouri?

A spouse might refuse to acknowledge divorce papers for any number of reasons. He might hope that if he ignores them, they'll go away. He might mistakenly believe that if he doesn't respond, he can block the divorce. In Missouri, neither of these assumptions is true. If the respondent doesn't answer a petition for divorce, the divorce will happen anyway, sometimes with very unfavorable consequences to him.

How Long Is the Divorce Process in Alabama?

Some states are wary of letting couples divorce too easily or too quickly, and Alabama is one of them. The state has built provisions into its legislation to slow the process down a little. In reality, the waiting period is so short that it often has little or no effect, however. How long a divorce takes really depends on whether you and your spouse are fighting over myriad issues or can reach an amicable settlement.

Get Divorced Online

Related articles

What Does it Mean to File for Irreconcilable Differences in a Divorce?

When filing for divorce, states generally require the divorcing couple name the grounds under which they are bringing ...

Uncontested Divorce in Illinois

While cooperating and communicating with your spouse during divorce proceedings may be challenging, it can allow you to ...

Can You Stop the Divorce Process in California After the Waiting Period?

California law mandates that the divorce process take at least six months, and this waiting period does not begin until ...

Reasons for a Divorce Dismissal

Divorce law varies from state to state, but each state has a procedure for dismissing a divorce case. The reasons for a ...

Browse by category
Ready to Begin? GET STARTED