The Divorce Process


Whether you made the difficult decision to divorce your spouse or your spouse decided for you, getting a divorce is almost always stressful. While it is possible to reach an agreement about property and children without the need for an attorney, many find it difficult to resolve emotional and financial issues without a skilled lawyer. Many people do not know what to expect during the divorce process or how to protect what matters to them most. Oftentimes, people worry, “Will my spouse prevent me from seeing my children?” Others fear their spouse will cut them off financially. To address these concerns, you must familiarize yourself with the divorce process and formulate a plan to protect your interests.

What to Expect

Though the divorce process itself may be complex, it can be boiled down to three basic steps: (1) filing the petition, (2) providing legal notice, (3) and resolving the issues.

  1. The Original Petition for Divorce

The formal legal divorce process begins as soon as a document entitled “Original Petition for Divorce” is filed with the Court. This document informs the Court that a divorce is sought, identifies the grounds for it, and usually addresses how the party seeking divorce would like the Court to address issues regarding the property and children.

After a petition is filed, the waiting game begins. There is a sixty-day waiting period before the divorce can be finalized. However, in most cases, the waiting period is not a concern because the parties often fail to reach an agreement within sixty days. After the Original Petition for Divorce is filed, the filing spouse must provide legal notice of the divorce to the other spouse.

  1. Legal Notice

Legal notice of a divorce requires more than telling your spouse about a divorce through conversation or in writing. Legal notice is normally accomplished by either obtaining a “Waiver of Service” from the non-filing spouse or through a process called “Service of Citation.”

A Waiver of Service is an official document a non-filing spouse must sign and have notarized. This document means that the non-filing spouse waives his or her right to be formally served with divorce papers. This document normally does not mean that the non-filing spouse waives any other rights in the divorce or agrees to the allegations in the divorce. It is important to review this document to ensure no other waivers are made. This method of legal notice is typically used when spouses are friendly, in communication, and in agreement.

If the non-filing spouse does not sign a Waiver of Service, then the filing spouse must use a process called Service of Citation. Through this process, the non-filing spouse is served with divorce papers. The citation provides your spouse legal notice that he or she is being sued for divorce and also provides him or her a deadline to respond within a certain time and manner.

  1. Resolving the Issues

If the parties are unable to reach an agreement, typically, one or both of the parties request a temporary orders hearing. During this hearing, the Court addresses the parties’ immediate concerns regarding possession of the children, use of property, and support.

In an effort to reach a final settlement, most Courts will require the parties to attempt mediation to resolve their differences. Mediation is a process by which a neutral third party facilitates the negotiation process to help the parties reach an agreement. The parties and their attorneys usually remain in separate rooms throughout the mediation process. The parties should attend mediation with their attorneys because the mediator only acts as a neutral third party and does not look out for either party’s interests.

In the event the parties reach an agreement, they will sign a document entitled “Mediated Settlement Agreement,” which can seldom be overturned. After this document is signed by the parties, one of the attorneys is tasked with drafting a final decree of divorce based on the mediated settlement agreement.

If the parties cannot reach an agreement in mediation, the case will proceed to trial. Sometimes the parties will reach an agreement before trial or even at the courthouse immediately before the trial is set to begin. If the case proceeds to trial, all issues that have not been agreed upon by the parties will be decided by the Court.

Formulating Your Strategy

The divorce process can be very intimidating to most people. The idea of separating when you have spent years together accumulating property and raising children cannot help but invoke a deep feeling of sadness and, more than likely, hostility in most people. Unfortunately, it is at this time of high emotions that many people make mistakes that are detrimental to their case, and thus, make it more difficult to achieve their desired result. The importance of consulting with a skilled lawyer before you make a mistake in your case, either for lack of knowledge or lack of control, cannot be overemphasized. A trustworthy lawyer can assist you in developing a strategy that can aid you in accomplishing your goals from the beginning stages to the finalization of the divorce.

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