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So, You've Decided To Get A Divorce. What Happens Next?

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You probably feel like you've already tried everything else. Fighting with your spouse didn't get you anywhere. Talking didn't either. Counseling -- with or without your spouse's participation -- didn't change the fact that you're simply in an unhappy marriage. Ultimately, you make the decision that it's time to get a divorce.

So, what happens next? Divorce is actually a complicated legal process that happens in stages, not just a single event. Since uncertainty around a situation can breed anxiety, the more you understand the divorce process, the easier it will be to add a little predictability to your life as your divorce unfolds.

While no two divorces are exactly the same, here's the general timeline a divorce usually follows:

1. Communication about the decision

If you haven't already, you need to tell your spouse that you've decided to seek a divorce. If the conversation goes well, you may be able to get through the next few steps with a minimum of acrimony. Consider approaching your spouse with the idea that a divorce is actually a positive step in a new direction for you both. 

2. The petition for divorce is filed.

If you're the party who is initiating the divorce, you have to file a petition with the local court. Which court handles divorces varies from state to state, but there is likely a "Domestic Relations" or "Family" Court that is designed to handle these cases. Your divorce lawyer will help you draft the petition and file it with the appropriate court.

3. The defendant is served.

Your spouse has to be given official notice of the divorce proceedings. This ensures that he or she has notice of the pending legal action and a chance to obtain independent counsel if he or she so desires. In some jurisdictions, the divorce petition can be served by certified mail. In others, a sheriff or some other party must serve the defendant the petition in person.

4. The defendant has time to answer the petition.

Your spouse will be given a specific amount of time to find an attorney and make any counterclaims to your petition for divorce. Counterclaims can range from actually contesting the divorce itself to merely contesting some small part of the petition (like who gets the car).

5. The court may issue interim judgments.

Often, the court will issue interim judgments in a divorce case. These can include things like temporary orders about who gets to remain in the family home, who gets the use of which family car, and how temporary support and custody of the children will be handled (if you have any). These temporary orders do not necessarily reflect what will happen in the end, so don't panic if you don't like the interim orders.

6. There's a period of discovery and negotiation.

You and your spouse, usually through your attorneys, will exchange financial information and negotiate the terms of your divorce. This means dividing up the marital property and coming to some kind of agreement about spousal support (if any), child support, and a parenting schedule.

7. The court issues its final judgment.

Once you and your spouse have agreed to all the terms of your divorce -- or come to an impasse that puts some decisions in the hands of the court -- the judge in your case will finalize all of the decisions and issue a formal divorce decree.

For more information about the divorce process or to address your specific concerns, contact a business like Winstein, Kavensky & Cunningham, LLC.