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Divorce Timeline

When people decide to get a divorce, they usually don’t know what to expect. Divorce is a complicated legal process, and it can be full of unpleasant surprises and frustrating delays. A general understanding of what’s likely to happen can help you feel more comfortable at an uncomfortable time. The following chronology or divorce timeline, gives a general idea of how the average divorce proceeds. Your divorce may be a little different because of specific issues between you and your spouse.

  1. To start off the divorce, one of the spouses gets a lawyer, who writes up a Petition, a legal document that officially says the spouse wants a divorce (and sets forth certain statistical information.)
  2. The lawyer files the Petition with the court.
  3. The lawyer makes sure that the Petition is served on the other spouse together with a Summons that requires that spouse’s response.
  4. The served spouse has to answer within a certain time (30 days after service). The answer (also called a response) says whether or not the served spouse agrees with the petition. If he or she doesn’t answer the petition by filing a Response, then the court assumes that he or she agrees with the petition and does not want to litigate the issues. The Response indicates how the served spouse would prefer to deal with the divorce issues.
  5. The couple exchanges documents and information on issues such as property and income. By examining this information, the couple and the court can decide how to divide up property and how to deal with child support and spousal support (also called alimony).
  6. Sometimes, the couple can voluntarily resolve all their issues through mediation or settlement.
  7. If a settlement is reached, the settlement agreement is prepared and submitted to a judge for signature. If the agreement is reached orally in court, the parties will be asked “on the record” in court whether each party understands and chooses to make the agreement legally binding. The written settlement agreement shows the specific terms of what the couple agreed to. Once signed by the judge, it becomes part of the Judgment of Dissolution (also called a divorce decree).
  8. If no Response is filed and there is no settlement agreement, then a default is taken against the non-answering spouse. A proposed Judgment is sent to the judge for review. Typically, an informal hearing is scheduled where the judge will ask a few basic factual questions before approving the Judgment.
  9. If the judge approves the agreement or the proposed judgment, he or she gives the couple a Judgment of Dissolution that shows the terms of how the issues are being resolved.
  10. If a Response has been filed and the couple does not reach an agreement, the case will go to trial.
  11. At trial, attorneys present evidence and arguments for each side, and the judge decides the unresolved issues, including child custody and visitation, child and spousal support, and property division. Once the judge has reached his or her decision, the judge grants the divorce.
  12. Either or both spouses can appeal a judge’s decision to a higher court. But it’s unusual for an appeals court to overturn a judge’s decision. Also, remember that settlements usually cannot be appealed if both spouses agree to their terms.

It’s hard to say how long all these steps will take in your case. The entire process can take from as little as a few months, to as long as a few years. Generally speaking, the more the couple can cooperate and agree to reasonable compromises, the smoother and faster the divorce will go.

This information is general in nature and should not be construed to be formal legal advice nor the formation of a lawyer/client relationship