Divorce Process

December 21, 2023

Getting divorced formally ends a marriage through the court system. The process involves filing paperwork, serving your spouse, responding to the divorce petition, negotiating terms, and finalizing the divorce. Understanding the key steps can help you navigate this difficult transition.

Filing for Divorce

The first step in the divorce process is filing the initial paperwork, typically called the "petition for dissolution of marriage" or "complaint for divorce." This involves meeting eligibility criteria, choosing the right court, completing forms, and paying fees.

Eligibility Requirements

To file for divorce, you must meet residency requirements in the state where you are filing. This usually means living in the state for 6 months to 2 years. You must also have valid grounds for divorce, such as irreconcilable differences.

Choosing Where to File

You can file in the state where you live or the state where your spouse lives. If you have minor children, it may be best to file in their home state. You file your paperwork with the clerk of the circuit or county court.

Completing Forms & Paperwork

The divorce forms ask for basic information about you, your spouse, your marriage, and what you want from the divorce. This includes division of assets and debts, alimony, child support, and custody arrangements.

Filing Fees

It costs between $100-$500 to file for divorce, depending on location. Fees may be waived if you qualify for a fee waiver based on low income.

Serving Your Spouse

After filing, you must legally notify your spouse through a process called "service of process." This is usually done in person or by certified mail. Your spouse must be properly notified for the case to proceed.

Accepting Service

Your spouse can accept service by signing the Proof of Service document or sending it back in the mail. This saves time and money spent hiring a process server.

Avoiding Service

Your spouse cannot avoid the inevitable by dodging service. The judge can allow alternative service methods if your spouse is deliberately avoiding getting served.

Responding to the Divorce Petition

After your spouse is served, they have 20-30 days to respond in writing, depending on the state. If they do not respond, they can still participate later on. However, there may be consequences from the court for not responding.

Filing an Answer

In the Answer, your spouse responds to each numbered paragraph in the petition, either admitting or denying the statements. They can also file counterclaims outlining what they want from the divorce.

Filing Counterclaims

Your spouse may have different requests for dividing property, support, and custody. Their counterclaims get taken equally into consideration along with your original petition.

Consequences of Not Responding

There can be serious repercussions for not responding to a divorce petition within the timeframe set by state law and ordered through the petition.

Default Judgment

If your spouse does not respond, the judge may enter a default judgment granting only what you requested in the petition. Your spouse gives up rights when failing to respond.

Contempt of Court

Judges can issue bench warrants, garnish wages, or jail spouses for being in contempt of court by ignoring orders requiring a response.

Next Steps in the Divorce Case

After initial filings and response, the divorce case proceeds through information gathering, settlement talks, and potentially court hearings.

Discovery & Information Gathering

You and your spouse exchange financial documents, gather details on income, assets, debts, and take depositions.

Negotiating Settlements

Most cases settle before trial. You can negotiate directly or with attorneys and mediators assisting to reach compromise.

Court Hearings & Trial

If you cannot agree, the judge makes final decisions on contested issues during hearings and at trial. Attorneys present witnesses and evidence.

Finalizing the Divorce

The last step is concluding the divorce and getting the final judgment or decree. Afterwards, adjustments can be requested.

Divorce Decree

The decree is the final binding court order terminating your marital status and outlining terms for support, property, custody, and visitation.

Post-Divorce Issues & Modifications

After the divorce, either spouse can request changes to support, custody agreements, or other orders due to material changes in circumstances.


Getting divorced sets in motion a legal process involving filing a petition, serving your spouse, responding and providing mandatory disclosures, then either settling or litigating the issues before finalizing terms. There can be serious penalties like contempt of court charges or wage garnishment for not responding and obeying court orders. Understanding the steps for completing a divorce equips you to make informed choices.


Can you avoid being served divorce papers?

No, you cannot ultimately avoid being served. Judges permit alternative service methods like posting notices in newspapers if you deliberately dodge attempts. Not responding carries serious consequences.

How do I respond to divorce papers?

You must file a written response with the court within 20-30 days, depending on the state. In the "Answer," you either admit or deny each numbered paragraph in the petition then state your counterclaims. Consult an attorney for help.

Do I have to pay alimony if I don't respond?

If you do not respond, the judge can enter a default judgment ordering you to pay whatever alimony your spouse asked for in the initial filing. Not responding forfeits your rights to make counteroffers.

Can I respond late to divorce papers?

Technically, yes you can file your response late by first requesting permission from the judge along with a good reason for the lateness. Expect penalties like paying the other side's legal fees. Act promptly within the prescribed deadlines.

What happens if I ignore divorce papers?

Very bad things happen legally if you ignore the official Petition for Dissolution of Marriage summons. The divorce proceeds without your input. You also risk contempt charges, wage garnishment, or arrest for flouting court orders and ahead to jail. Don't ignore them!


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