• Get personalized price quotes from lawyers near you for free → START NOW


How to Get a Divorce – Step by Step Guide

checklistWhen your marriage is failing, your entire life becomes stressful and hard. Figuring out how to get a divorce can be a daunting task and adds yet another headache to the ordeal. But, if you know what to expect at each stage when you get a divorce, the entire process can become smoother and less painful.

The following is a step-by-step guide on how to get a divorce to help you deal with what is inevitably a very difficult and stressful process:

How to Get a Divorce Step 1: Determine Your Course of Action


An annulment is probably the easiest way to end a marriage, but it is only possible under certain circumstances, depending on state law. Typically, there must be a reason for the annulment. Some of the most common reasons are adultery, fraud, an underage or mentally incapacitated spouse, intoxication when the marriage took place, or impotence. If one or more of those circumstances is met, an annulment may be granted, which basically cancels the marriage as if it never took place.

Uncontested or Contested Divorce

An uncontested divorce occurs when the spouses are able to reach an agreement on their own about the division of assets, child custody, and more. If there are no children and very few assets to divide, it may be easy enough to get a divorce by using a divorce kit or filing it on your own through a website.  If the spouses are not able to easily agree, it would be much harder to figure out how to get a divorce on your own, and chances are you will need help from a lawyer.

How to Get a Divorce Step 2: Filing

The process to get a divorce really begins when you file with the court. It can be especially helpful to have a divorce lawyer during this time, just to make sure you don’t miss anything.

First one spouse will have to file a complaint or petition for divorce explaining the reason or grounds for ending the marriage. This document will then be served upon the other spouse.

The spouse receiving notice of the petition will then have a certain amount of time, depending on state law, to file a formal response to the complaint. The response will include what the spouse agrees or disagrees with in the complaint.  If the response is filed late, it can affect that spouse negatively later in the proceedings if any type of judgment is made, so it’s important to be on time.

After the complaint and response are filed, the court will hold a hearing to issue temporary orders on issues such as which spouse gets to stay in the house, child custody, child and spousal support payments, and more. This process can sometimes take months.

How to Get a Divorce Step 3: Discovery

In order to make permanent decisions on alimony, child custody, and other key issues, the court will need time to go through a discovery phase. During this time, both spouses gather as much information as possible that will help the court make decisions.

Discovery is particularly important relating to financial matters. So the court will need paystubs, tax returns, and other financial information in order to properly assess the situation and decide on child support and alimony payments, and division of assets.

Discovery can be a long drawn out process requiring formal interrogations and sworn testimony, or it can be relatively informal and easy, depending on how contested the divorce proceedings are.

Once the discovery process is complete, the parties will attempt to reach a settlement.  Settlement is basically just an agreement, based on all the info gleaned during discovery, on all the important issues mentioned above. If both parties agree to the settlement, the divorce will end at this point and the spouses will carry on with their separate lives, according to the settlement terms.

How to Get a Divorce Step 4: Trial

If the parties are unable to agree to a settlement, the divorce will have to proceed to trial. The trial can be a very long and stressful process, as both parties to the divorce will take turns presenting evidence and testimonies to defend their positions. It’s very important that both parties do everything the court orders as part of the divorce settlement during this time, because failure to do so can result in being held in contempt of court.

Eventually, the court will issue a ruling on all the issues being contested and the trial will end. This process can last up to a year in messy custody battles, which is why the process to get a divorce can be so stressful and emotionally draining.

How to Get a Divorce Step 5: Appeal

Don’t assume the divorce is over just because the trial is over, because either party can file an appeal after the judgment. The appeals court will review the case, not to determine if the decision was “fair” or not, but to determine if a legal error may have occurred that affected the outcome of the case.

Sometimes circumstances will have changed so drastically by the time the appeal process begins that the divorce case essentially starts over. When appeals are factored in, it’s easy to see why the process to get a divorce can be so long and painful – it can literally take years before everything is finalized.


So now you know a little more about how to get a divorce that will hopefully assist you through a difficult and stressful time in your life. Since divorce really is a legal battle, it can be extremely helpful to have a divorce lawyer representing you all throughout the process.

Your added knowledge and understanding of the divorce process should ease some of the anxiety during each step along the way, and hopefully both sides will come out on the other side of the divorce with a renewed sense of purpose and meaning in their lives.