Divorce is a highly challenging process – emotionally, physically and financially. Also it is definitely not an easy task. It is a legal matter and needs an expert legal advice. In the US, laws related to termination of marriage are subject to Federal laws and thus, every state has its own set of rules and regulations. Suppose you are living in New York, you need to follow New York divorce laws. Here you just cannot go with California divorce laws. Even though there are differences in laws, in most of the US states, the basic process is similar.
In the US states where legal separation is allowed, the process of end a marriage starts with legal separation procedure. A legal separation allows a couple to be apart, yet protects the interests of both parties and any children involved. In case, legal separation is not allowed in a particular state, then the couple needs to request for a temporary separation agreement. This can be done on your own or can be done under the guidance of a lawyer. Legal separation is must as in most cases it is compulsory for a couple to live separately for a particular period of time before filing a petition.
In the US, the actual divorce process starts when a person file a legal petition with the court requesting to terminate his marriage. The petition is known as an ‘Original Petition for Divorce’ or ‘Letter of Complaint’. In the petition, name of both parties and any children are mentioned. If you file the petition, you are the ‘petitioner.’ If your spouse files the petition, you are known as the ‘defendant’ or ‘respondent’. The petition must also name a reason for behind ending the marriage. You can file the petition on your own or take the help of an attorney.
Once the petition is filed, you will be given a hearing date. Both husband and wife are provided with a copy of the complaint and the summons to appear at the court on the given hearing date. In certain cases, when both the parties are not present or are not in talking terms, summons are provided by the court, usually through the sheriff. This summon helps both the parties to be aware of the hearing date. After getting the summons, the respondent has 30 days to find an attorney and respond to the petition. No matter what, your spouse has the right to argue with the terms of your request.
Next in the divorce process is the initial hearing date. On the date of hearing, both the parties must be present in the court. Here the judge will look at your petition and will review the complaints of both the parties. The judge will also interview the couple and after hearing from both, the judge will make a temporary judgment. Generally on the first hearing final judgment is not made. The court issues temporary orders to protect the interest of the either of the spouse. In case the court feels that some action should be taken immediately then it can issue orders related to child custody, maintenance or any other related issues. Both the spouses are legally bound to accept the temporary orders issued by the court. This order is valid till the waiting period which also differs from state to state. Here the court also orders the parties to submit important papers and documents related to their income, marital property, financial background, fitness for custody, and other related issues. Both the parties should be able to submit all the important documents to substantiate their stand or demands by the end of the waiting period. If the other party fails to respond to the petition then the court has the right to issue a divorce decree on its own.
Now during the waiting period, the couple is offered ample time to decide on how they will divide joint property and debt. The couple will also have to think about child custody and support arrangement. This is a very crucial phase during the whole process. It is always a good idea, to handle the division of assets on your own for a smooth and easy divorce. However, in situations when the couple cannot handle the division of assets and other important things on their own, the court will do that for them. The couple is then bound to follow the settlement made by the court. If the couple wants they can hire an expert to help them make division of assets, child custody and other responsibilities.
Final Hearing and Judgment:
After the waiting period, the case is scheduled for a hearing before the judge. On the day of hearing, a final order is given by the judge. Based on the documents provided by both the parties, the court decides who will get what. Important decisions related to child custody, child support, visitation issues are also taken during this hearing. In many cases, the matters are resolved easily, and the court simply takes the testimony of one of the parties and grants the order.
In case if the couple could not reach a settlement, a trial date is set. On the given date, both the parties can argue in front of the judge, who will determine the outcome of the case. This is a tedious process and might continue for long. This step involves cross examining the witnesses of both the parties and lots of questioning. After the trial is over, the court issues the final divorce decree. Only after this final judgment, the couple is legally divorced and can move forward to start their new journey. In case you are not satisfied by the decree, you can file an appeal in the court. In many cases, appeals are denied in cases especially when children are involved.
To conclude, this was an overview of a general process of getting divorce as followed in most of the US states. There are slight differences from one state to another in the overall process depending on the state laws but however the basic framework is the same.