Some divorces are simple and can be handled with a minimum amount of court involvement. However, most divorces are more complex and can take many different courses. The following is a basic outline of the divorce process.
- One spouse contacts a lawyer, who prepares a complaint setting forth the reason for the divorce.
- The complaint is filed with the court and served on the other spouse, together with a summons that requires the spouse’s response.
- The served spouse must respond within the time limit prescribed or it will be assumed that he or she does not contest the petition, in which case the petitioner will be granted the requested relief. The response, or answer, must express the relief that the answering spouse requests.
- The parties, through their attorneys, engage in “discovery,” during which they exchange all documents and other information relevant to deciding the issues in the divorce such as property division, spousal support, child support, etc.
- The parties may attempt to reach a settlement, which can be initiated voluntarily or facilitated by the parties’ lawyers or a neutral third party, such as a mediator.
- If a settlement is reached, the agreement is submitted to the court.
- If the judge approves the agreement, he or she issues a divorce decree that includes the terms to which the parties agreed. If he or she does not approve it, or if there has been no agreement, the case will go to trial.
- At trial, the attorneys present the evidence and arguments for both sides; the judge decides the issues and grants the divorce.
- Either or both parties can appeal the judge’s decision to a higher court.