It is said that one out of every two US marriages ends in divorce. While that statistic is highly debatable, one thing is certain: more people are going through divorces today than at any time in the past.

This does not mean, however, that the average American is any more qualified to navigate the many difficulties that divorce presents. That’s why we’ve compiled this resource to provide you with an idea of what to expect during the course of a divorce.

An Overview

Step 1: The Petition

A divorce begins with a divorce petition. The divorce petition is written by one spouse (the petitioner) and served to the other (the respondent). The divorce petition must also be filed in a state court in the county where the petitioner lives.

The petition should include all pertinent information regarding the marriage, including:

  • the names of the husband and wife;
  • the names the children (if any);
  • any separate or community property owned;
  • child custody and support desires;
  • spousal support desires; and
  • any other information you feel should be included

The petition has to be served to the respondent, which means you must present them with the divorce papers and give them notice that you have filed them with a state court. If divorce is already agreed upon by both of you, then the respondent only needs to sign an acknowledgement that they received the petition.

If the respondent will not sign the acknowledgement willingly (i.e. the divorce is not agreed upon beforehand), or they cannot be located, you should look to hire a professional process server. A good professional process server should be able to find the respondent, and hand the divorce papers directly to them.

Step 2: Filing a Response

Once the divorce papers are served, the respondent can then file a response to the petition. Although this is not necessary, it is an important step in the divorce process.

Filing a response will show that both of you have already agreed to the divorce, and it will make it more likely that the divorce will continue without a hearing. This is preferable, as a hearing only serves to elongate the divorce process and increase your legal bills.

If the respondent does not file a response by a certain time (usually 30 days), the petitioner can ask that the court enter a default. If a default is entered, the respondent will no longer be involved in the divorce process, and the petitioner will only have to show up at the court for a quick hearing.

Therefore, it is always recommended that the respondent file a response. If the respondent should disagree with any information in the petition, they can say so in their response.

Step 3: Additional Information

Next, both spouses need to give each other all information regarding assets, liabilities, income, and expenses.

If a divorce is not contested and the spouses agree on all terms of the divorce by themselves, there will only be a few more required forms.

Once the court gives their judgment, the divorce will be final. However, the marriage will not be officially over, and the spouses will not be allowed to re-marry, until the end of a six-month period, started on the date the petition was originally served.

If disputes arise that are not easily resolved, further court hearings and maybe even a trial will be needed.

Types of Separation

There are four different types of separations:

Trial Separation

A couple will live apart for a while to decide whether or not to divorce. If they do eventually divorce, any assets and debts accumulated during the trial separation are generally considered jointly owned. A trial separation is usually not legally recognized.

Living Apart

The couple no longer resides in the same home. Some states consider property accumulated and debts incurred while living apart to be the sole property or debt of the person who accumulated or incurred it. In other states, property and debt is joint unless and until a divorce complaint is filed in court.

Permanent Separation

A couple decides to permanently split. This can follow a trial separation, or begin immediately when a couple starts to live apart. In most states, all assets received and most debts incurred after permanent separation are the separate property or responsibility of the spouse incurring them.

However, debts that happen after separation, but before divorce are usually joint debts if they are incurred for certain necessities, such as to provide for the children or maintain the marital home. Again, a couple’s decision to permanently separate may not be considered a legal one unless one party takes the other to court for support or custody pending a divorce action. This then leads to a state of legal separation.

Legal Separation

A couple separates, and a court rules on the division of assets, child custody, and visitation and financial support. However, a divorce is not granted. The money for support of the spouse and children under this circumstance is often known as separate maintenance (instead of alimony and child support).


An annulment is similar to a divorce in that it effectively ends a marriage. The difference, however, is an annulment treats the marriage as if it never happened.

Grounds for annulment will vary from state to state, but they may generally be obtained for one of the following reasons:

1. Misrepresentation or Fraud

A spouse lied about their ability to have children, that s/he has reached the age of consent (18 years old), or that s/he is not still legally married to someone else.

2. Concealment

Hiding an addiction to alcohol or drugs, conviction of a felony, any children from a previous relationship, a sexually transmitted disease, or impotency.

3. Refusal or Inability to Consummate the Marriage

Refusal or inability of a spouse to have sexual intercourse with the other spouse.

Spouses mainly seek annulments for a marriage of only a few weeks or months. With such a short marriage, there will usually be no assets or debts to divide, or child custody, visitation, or financial support to be concerned about. When it is a long-term marriage being annulled, most states have measures for dividing any property and debts, as well as determining child custody, visitation, and support.

How LLS Can Help

Legal Language Services can assist you in your divorce by taking any incriminating audio you may have (i.e. threatening answering machine messages or recordings of infidelity or abuse) and providing you with a certified transcription that is acceptable in all US courts.

Call 1-800-788-0450 for a FREE consultation or fill out the online form below and see how Legal Language can meet your transcription needs.