Understanding the Divorce Process and Timeline

Divorce can be a frustrating and exhausting process for all involved parties involved. In order to properly prepare for the steps ahead, it may be most beneficial to have a general understanding of the process that you are about to face. The more informed you are about your situation, the more confident you are likely to be when making decisions.

The follow events comprise the timeline of the average divorce process. Take note that the process may differ slightly due to differences in state laws and due to specific circumstances between you and your spouse:

The Divorce Petition

The divorce process begins with a divorce petition written by one spouse and served on the other spouse. This petition contains relevant information on the marriage including the name of the spouses and their children, as well as an explanation of why a spouse wants a divorce and how he or she would like to settle custody, financial, and other issues. The petition is then filed with the court.

Serving Divorce Papers and the Divorce Petition Response

The divorce papers are served on the other spouse, together with a summons requiring a response from the spouse. The served spouse must respond within a certain time frame—usually about three weeks. This answer indicates whether or not the spouse served agrees with the complaint or petition, and details how he or she would like to deal with the divorce decisions.

If both spouses are agreeable to the divorce, then the other spouse must sign an acknowledgement of the receipt of service. If the spouse served does not reply to the petition, the court will assume that he or she agrees to the terms indicated.


If both parties do not begin settlement negotiations immediately, then the next step of the divorce process is known as discovery. In this phase, the couple must exchange all relevant information and documents on issues concerning income and property, and both assets and liabilities. With this information, both the court and the couple can determine how best to divide up the assets, as well as how to deal with relavant issues such as alimony and child support. The extent of the discovery process typically depends on the make-up and size of the marital estate.

Mediation or Settlement

In some instances, the couple opts to resolve their issues through settlement or mediation voluntarily. Certain states require divorcing couples to undergo this process. If the couple reaches a settlement, then this agreement is presented to a judge. If the judge approves the couple’s agreement in an informal hearing, the judge issues a divorce decree to the couple. If the judge rejects the agreement or if the couple does not arrive at an agreement, then the case will proceed to trial.


At trial, attorneys will present arguments and evidence for each side, then the judge ultimately decides on unresolved issues such as property division, spousal and child support, visitation, and child custody. The judge grants the divorce once he or she has arrived at a decision.


Each party has a right to an appeal after a divorce if they disagree with the judge’s ruling. Take note that the timelines for an appeal are very limited and differ according to state.

Each divorce is unique, and the entire process can take anywhere from a few months to several years. Of course, the more a couple cooperates with one another, the faster and smoother the divorce is likely to go.