The process of going through a divorce can seem endless, but there are really four main steps you and your ex-partner go through. During any of these steps you have the option of hiring a divorce lawyer, but it is best to do so at the very beginning if you think the communication with your ex-spouse is going to be difficult or the financials will get complicated.
- One person files. Even when both parties agree they want a divorce, one will need to file a petition with the court to ask for the divorce. The majority of divorces, about two-thirds, are filed by women. Legally, this is called the Petition and Summons, and you serve the divorce papers to your ex-spouse. The petition will need to state the grounds for divorce, but most states allow for no-fault grounds, such as “irreconcilable differences.” If you’ve gone through with hiring a divorce lawyer, they can help you sort out the grounds according to the laws in your jurisdiction. The person who serves will also need to file a proof of service process, which is a document that shows that they gave a copy of the divorce petition to the other party. At this point, if one spouse depends on the other for financial support or will have custody of the children, they will also file a temporary order for support and/or custody that is in effect until the final hearing.
- The other person responds. The spouse who receives the petition will then need to respond by filing a dissolution response. If the divorce has been sought on fault grounds, the responding party can dispute those grounds or assert a defense to the grounds. They can also include in the response any disagreements over custody, support, or property division.
- You both negotiate. If you haven’t done so already, hiring a divorce lawyer during the negotiation is very helpful, especially if you have complex finances like stock options or business ownership to sort out. The court can schedule settlement conferences or mandated mediation that try to move both parties towards a final resolution.
- You reach an agreement. Hopefully, you and your ex-spouse will be able to reach a legal agreement by just negotiating through your lawyers. If more complicated issues like child custody become a battle, the case can go to trial and be decided on by a judge. Going to trial can have unpredictable results, so it is best to avoid trial if possible. Anyway, the agreement is reached will lead to an order of dissolution to end the marriage and detail everything about custody, support, and how property and debts are divided.
As this is a legal process like any other, seeking divorce help at the beginning will simplify the entire ordeal. Divorce lawyers exist to guide you through the legal jargon and to ensure you get everything you deserve.