So you and your spouse are unsatisfied in your marriage and have decided to call it quits. The difficult decision-making process is finally over, but you might be left confused and intimidated by the actual process of filing for divorce, and we don’t blame you. After all, you’re not an expert in family law. You may not have ever interacted with your local court system or the county clerk’s office.
There are many important things to focus on when you’re ending your marriage -- alimony, custody, the division of your marital property… The last thing you need is to stress out about how the process is going to go before you even lay eyes on the divorce forms.
That’s why we’ve taken the time to write this brief guide. We want you to know a little bit about what you’re in for before you file for divorce. That way, you’ll be better equipped to make decisions that lead to an easier divorce for you, your spouse, and your kids. There are a few different types of divorce whose processes vary, so consider this your general overview.
Filing the Divorce Petition
The first step in the divorce process is filing the petition for divorce. This document, which some states alternatively call a divorce complaint, allows one spouse to initiate a divorce case.
The petition mostly just formalizes the grounds for divorce, identifies the parties and describes how they meet that state’s residency requirements (which you can look up on your local court website -- they vary state by state, and you are not required to file in the same state that your marriage license was issued). The petitioner might also take this opportunity to request that temporary court orders be put into place regarding things like custody and parenting time, spousal and child support, and which spouse will continue living in the marital home, which the court may or may not grant.
Other divorce papers must also be filed at this time, but they vary a little bit depending on where you live. These generally include a divorce summons, which formally notifies your spouse that the legal process has begun, documents describing your income and assets, and documents identifying your children and the regular expenses associated with them.
The petitioner is responsible for filling out all of this initial paperwork. That spouse will also have to pay a filing fee at that time, but you can of course negotiate splitting it with your spouse if you want. Filing fees also vary state to state, and you can find that information on your local court website as well. The date you file will serve as your legal separation date, at which point you will stop accruing marital property.
If you opt for an online divorce, then It’s Over Easy can take care of all of this on your behalf. These forms can be pretty complicated (think doing your own taxes), so you’ll also be relieved to hear that we guarantee that your paperwork will be completed correctly and accepted by the court.
Serving Your Spouse
Once you have filed the initial paperwork, you’ll need to formally serve your spouse. This just means giving your spouse a copy of what you’ve filed, states have different legal requirements you must meet in order to do this properly.
In our home state of California for example, anyone over 18 who is not a party to the case may serve divorce papers, but a handful of states require a licensed process server. It might benefit you to hire a professional no matter your state’s requirements, because if service isn’t 100% proper, the court will make you do it over again. If you work with It’s Over Easy, we’ll handle this task for you with no extra fees.
As awkward as this conversation might be, we strongly recommend you let your spouse know that the divorce forms are coming before they are served, as long as you feel safe doing so. Otherwise, it might come as an unpleasant surprise and compromise your ability to handle your divorce amicably.
Waiting for a Response
Now that your spouse has had the opportunity to look over everything you’ve done so far, they’ll have some work to do as well. It’s only fair, right?
There is a parallel set of paperwork that the respondent is required to complete and file, which is why it really doesn’t matter who initiates the process in a no-fault divorce. In a fault divorce, however, the petitioner is claiming that the respondent did something wrong (like adultery, domestic violence, or abandonment) which justifies wanting to end the marriage.
At It’s Over Easy, we deal only in no-fault divorce, which saves a lot of time, money, and stress, but we understand if the circumstances of your marriage lead you down a different path. However, many states only offer no-fault divorce nowadays, so you would have to initiate a separate lawsuit in order to litigate bad action on the part of your ex.
Anyway, back to the response forms. Your spouse will have a certain amount of time to complete the forms in order to avoid default judgement, so you won’t be waiting around forever. They will file their forms with the court just like you did, and the negotiations will commence.
Negotiating a Deal
Despite what you might have seen in the movies, only about 5% of divorces actually go to trial. In all likelihood, you and your spouse will settle out of court, whether on your own, in mediation, or through divorce attorneys. You might even already have a prenuptial or separation agreement, in which case most or all of the work is done.
If you reach a settlement on your own, then you are in the enviable position of undergoing an uncontested divorce. This can save you a ton on attorney’s fees, especially if you work with It’s Over Easy. With our help, it won’t be necessary to hire a lawyer at all, because we’ll guide you through the entire process. Even if you do decide you want a little bit of legal advice from a family law attorney, you’ll still have saved dozens of billable hours.
If you and your spouse are willing to work together but don’t agree on everything right off the bat, then mediation is a great option for you. In mediation, a professional (usually a lawyer or licensed mental health professional) will walk you through all of the negotiations and help keep things civil. Custody, spousal support, and the division of debts and assets can all be pretty spicy conversations, so it’s very helpful to have a cool head in the room. Mediation costs a lot more than an online divorce but a lot less than each of you hiring a lawyer.
If you and your spouse really aren’t seeing eye to eye on anything, you might end up each hiring an attorney but settling out of court. While mediation is usually a set of real-time conversations, divorce lawyers will carry out most of the negotiations through correspondence, so it can take considerably longer than DIY divorce or mediation.
No matter which method of dispute resolution you choose, by the time you reach the end of the negotiations, you will have determined spousal support, split up your debts and assets, and developed a parenting plan (including child support, visitation, legal custody, and physical custody) if you have kids.
Going to Trial
For an unlucky few, even high-paid lawyers will not be able to strike up a deal. In that case, you’ll be headed to family court, where a judge will have the final say on the terms of your dissolution of marriage.
No matter how fair and wise the judge might be, they won’t really have the opportunity to get to know you, and it’s a scary prospect having a stranger determine who has custody of your child. That’s why we encourage you to avoid this fate if at all possible. The time and expense of a divorce trial are bad enough, but the disempowerment can be downright devastating.
Receiving Your Divorce Decree
After the response paperwork has been filed, most states have some sort of formal waiting period or required period of legal separation before your marriage can be declared over. This is when you and your spouse will be hammering out the custody and property details.
Once the designated period is over, then a judge can issue a final decree. This document declares your marriage finished. Congratulations, you made it through this process in one piece! Time for a spa day to celebrate!
How It’s Over Easy Can Help
Hopefully this step-by-step process was illuminating enough to eliminate some of the worry. However, ending a marriage might still seem a bit complicated, no?
That’s where It’s Over Easy comes in. If you start your divorce with us, you won’t have to think about any of this ever again.
You and your spouse will each have a set of simple questions to answer, which you should be able to complete in a single sitting. After that, your work is more or less done. We’ll need a signature here and there, and maybe your spouse will have to be formally served, but you’ll never have to think about a single date or deadline or fill out a single piece of paperwork.
You’re more than welcome to give us a call if you have a question or want an update, but you won’t ever have to. We’ll take care of the process from start to finish, and then let you know when the deed is done.