Starting the divorce process can be daunting, especially when you are not sure of how the process actually proceeds. In general, a divorce follows the same format. Familiarize yourself with the steps and a divorce process might not seem so overwhelming.
First, the petitioner, meaning the party who is initiating the court case, has a few things to decide. The petitioner will want to determine if you qualify for a summary dissolution, which is a quicker and easier way to end a marriage or domestic partnership. If you qualify for a summary dissolution, you will not have to talk to a judge, though it is still in your best interest to consult your lawyer. To qualify for a summary dissolution, you have to have been married for less than 5 years, have no children together, and not own any major assets together. In addition, the petitioner will want to determine where they can file the divorce, including what state and county. They will also want to figure out how much it will cost to file the divorce forms, and if they can afford it. Before the divorce proceedings, the petitioner will want to determine if there are any special procedures or forms for divorce in their county.
Next, the petitioner might want to talk to their spouse to see if they can agree on the terms of the divorce. Keep in mind that this step should NOT be carried out if you are a victim of domestic violence. If you are concerned for your safety, consult with a lawyer or domestic violence counselor for this step. If you can talk with your partner and agree on divorce terms, you may be able to save money on filing fees, like if you work it out so only the petitioner has to file papers in court. Creating an agreement will also cut down on court time. It should also be noted that these conversations do not have to happen early on in the case, rather, they can occur throughout the proceedings. So, do not give up on trying to reach an agreement if one cannot be reached early on.
Next the petitioner will complete and file all the necessary forms, including any forms specific to their local. Filing the forms just entails giving the forms to a court clerk at your courthouse. There is a fee for filing forms; if you cannot afford the fees, you can apply for a fee waiver. Next the respondent (the person being sued) will have copies of the court forms delivered to them in time for the respondent to give the judge their side of the story before a decision is made. This part of the process is called “service of process.” The person who delivered the forms to the respondent fills out a “proof of service” form which the petitioner then files.
After this, the respondent decides if they want to file a response with the court. If not, the judge will make a decision on the case. If they do decide to file a response, the respondent will fill out and file a series of forms within 30 days of being served. Then, those forms will be served to the petitioner. Again, the person who delivers the forms will fill out a proof of service form which the petitioner will file. Both parties then exchange financial documents which state what they own and what they owe, which is called the “preliminary declaration of disclosure.” The preliminary declaration of disclosure helps the parties to come up with a fair way to divide debt and property.
Finally, the court will approve and sign the judgement. This part of the process depends on whether or not the spouses can reach an agreement on the terms of the divorce or not. Next, both parties will have to file a few more forms. If the couple can reach an agreement on the terms, they will not have to go to court and the process will generally be easier and shorter. 6 months after the final forms are filed, the divorce is finalized.