The Steps Of Divorce - What to Expect

Even though the steps of divorce follow a similar sequence, each state has different requirements at each stage.

By WomansDivorce | Answers by Brette Sember, J.D. 

If you’ve made the decision to get a divorce (or your spouse announced the marriage is over), you'll need to know how the divorce process works. In most states, there are a series of steps for getting a divorce. How long the divorce process takes will depend on how complex the issues in your divorce are, if you have minor children, and where you live.

It’s a good idea to consult with an experienced divorce attorney before proceeding. A divorce lawyer will be able to explain how the process works in your state and provide legal guidance and support throughout the divorce process, including advice on how to handle complex legal and financial issues.

The 10 Steps of Divorce

Ultimately, whether you use an attorney or not, understanding the steps of divorce can help you prepare for what lies ahead, including what paperwork is required, gathering necessary documents, and preparing for court proceedings if necessary. Keep reading to understand what will likely happen during your divorce.

Step 1. Meet the Residency Requirement for Divorce

A petition for divorce will not be accepted unless at least one spouses meets the residency requirements of the state where the divorce is filed. There may also be residency requirements for the county in which the divorce will be filed. (1)

Step 2. Determine the grounds for divorce

You'll need to declare the legal reason (also know as the grounds for divorce) for seeking a divorce. There are two types of divorce: fault-based and no-fault. With a fault divorce, one spouse is claiming the actions of the other spouse led to the breakdown of the marriage. On the other hand you can seek a no-fault divorce which is based on irreconcilable differences between the spouses.

Step 3. File the Petition for Divorce

The divorce petition is the first document filed in a divorce and includes:

  • the country where the divorce is being filed,
  • information about the marriage, 
  • information about each spouse,
  • any minor children of the marriage, 
  • the grounds cited for divorce, 
  • the petitioners request for child custody and support, 
  • how the marital estate will be divided, and 
  • if alimony is being sought. 

When you file the petition for divorce with the court and pay the filing fee, it starts the formal divorce process.

Step 4. Serve the Divorce Summons and Petition

Your spouse needs to be formally notified that you have started the divorce process. This is usually done by hiring a process server or having the sheriff’s department serve your spouse a copy of the divorce petition. There are additional ways to serve the divorce papers if your spouse can’t be located or properly served.

Step 5. Respond to the Divorce Petition

The spouse who has been served divorce papers will need to submit a response to the divorce petition within a certain time frame. The respondent can either agree with the provisions of the divorce petition or can disagree on some terms by filing a counter-complaint. The submitted response (answer) is filed with the court and a copy is sent to the filing spouse as well. If the respondent fails to respond to the divorce petition, the divorce may be granted by default at the request of the petitioner.

Step 6. Discovery, Depositions, and Financial Disclosure

During divorce discovery, both spouse need to share information in order to work out a divorce agreement. Attorneys for either side may also subpoena documents to gather needed evidence for the case if needed. This may include proof of income, tax returns, bank statements, credit card statements, retirement account information, and more. Depositions gather further evidence through sworn testimony or by written questions to a lawyers questions.

Step 7. Hearings, Conferences and Temporary Orders

Hearings for temporary orders help settle issues while the divorce is pending, such as determining how the various debts and bills will be paid, assignment of temporary child custody and support, parenting time arrangements, temporary alimony, and any necessary restraining orders. There will also be various conferences and hearing you'll need to attend depending on the specifics of your divorce. If the divorce fails to progress, the case can be dismissed by the judge.

Step 8. Negotiate a Settlement

Issues that need to be resolved in your divorce agreement include child custody and support, a parenting plan, division of assets and debts, spousal support (if applicable), and how to handle future modifications of the agreement. Ideally, it’s best to mutually agree on all the provisions of the divorce settlement. When you can’t agree, there are options to negotiate the settlement, such as mediation, arbitration, or having your attorney negotiate on your behalf. If you can’t reach a mutual agreement with your spouse on all the issues of your divorce, it will then proceed to trial where a judge will make the final decision.

Step 9. Go to Trial if Necessary

Most couples are able to eventually agree on the terms of their divorce without going to trial. When negations fail, only the contested issues of the divorce settlement will need to be decided by the court. This tends to take longer and increase legal fees as you go through the litigation process. The court will consider all the evidence and arrive at a decision based on the state laws governing divorce.

Step 10: Finalize the Divorce

If you and your spouse have worked out an agreement on the various divorce issues, the attorney for the filing spouse will draft the judgment outlining the terms of the divorce. Both spouses will then need to sign the divorce papers, after which a judge will review the agreement and sign the final order. The final divorce order combines the judge’s rulings on contested issues with the issues that both spouses have previously agreed to. The final divorce decree is sometimes called the Final Judgment, Decree and Order and it becomes enforceable once it’s filed by the county court clerk. 

Related Information about the Steps of Divorce:

Questions about starting a divorce and types of divorce 

FAQs about Post-divorce Issues and Remarriage 

Reverting to Your Maiden Name after Divorce 

Starting a divorce and types of divorce

What should I do before getting a divorce?

Marilyn's Question: My husband said he intends to file for a divorce when our children graduate from high school. I am a homemaker, and now he wants me to find a job, after telling me not to for all these years. I can't help feeling like a sitting duck. What can I do now to protect myself?

Brette's Answer: I think you would be well advised to meet with an attorney to gather information and get some advice. This does not mean you should let him know you're doing so or that you should take any other action at this point. However, talking to someone who can review your situation and suggest what steps you should or should not take right now would most likely not only help you feel more secure, but put you in a better position. Good luck.

Can I move out of state if I haven't started the divorce yet?

Delores' Question: What if I want to move to another state? I am not yet divorced but I need to take that step, and what is the easiest way to get a divorce?

Brette's Answer: If you don't have children you can move easily. It is easiest to file for divorce before you move because you must meet specific residency requirements to file in a new state.

What is the easiest way to get a divorce started?

Laura's Question: What is the easiest way to get a divorce started? Will I need to hire a divorce lawyer? How do I file for temporary custody and maintenance?

Brette Answers: It's a good idea to meet with an attorney for a consultation so that you can get some idea of the process and expense involved. He or she will explain all of your options and what you are entitled to. In brief, the issues are custody, child support, spousal support/alimony, and division of marital assets and debts. You can also discuss temporary orders for custody, child support, and alimony. You might want to consider working with a mediator if possible as well.

Who pays for the cost of the divorce?

Maxine's Question: Who pays for the divorce if the wife goes to a lawyer first and gives him money?

Brette: It doesn't make any difference who talks to and pays an attorney first. The cost of divorce is often split between the spouses, but this is certainly something which can be negotiated. It's common for the moneyed spouse to pay all or most of the cost.

Where can I find a step by step list showing the divorce process?

Nan's Question: At what point can a person change their decision to go thru with a divorce? And where can I find a list of the steps of divorce showing exactly what the process is?

Brette's Answer: Your state court web site should have divorce self-help or pro se information. There is likely an entire packet that lays out the process. (You can also read through this overview of the divorce process, which gives the general steps of divorce to expect). You can change your mind at any point before the final decree, but that doesn't mean your spouse changes his mind. You both have to agree to withdraw the case.

What's the best way to divorce if we don't want to involve lawyers?

Trisha's Question: After a year of trying to work things out, it's obvious that we're heading for a divorce. The fortunate thing is through this 'separation', he has agreed to pay for all our living expenses as usual, which amounts to about 60% of his typical take home pay. I feel we can really do this without lawyers because we're determined not to get crabby with each other to the expense of our children. Any good advice will be appreciated.

Brette's Answer: You sound like a good couple for mediation. A mediator will help you put your agreement in writing and will point out the things you have not yet thought of. Then you can formalize your agreement and make it legally enforceable. Good luck.

What type of divorce do I need if I just want it to be over?

Ana's Question: We separated 2 months after we got married, and are both now involved in different relationships. We don't want anything from each other and just to have our marriage ended. What kind of divorce should I get?

Brette: It sounds like you should just do a simple uncontested divorce. One of you can do the paperwork on your own. Talk to a family law attorney to get more information.

Is dissolution the same thing as a divorce?

Debbie's Question: My husband just filed for a dissolution. Is that the same as a divorce? I thought for a dissolution we had to agree on everything.

Brette's Answer: Yes dissolution of a marriage is the same as divorce. You should respond to the papers you got so you can ask for everything you want.

Where can I find information about military divorce?

Erika's Question: Do you know where I might find information about military divorces?

Brette's Answer: You should become familiar with the Uniformed Services Former Spouses' Protection Act, which you can Google. The American Bar Association has some good general information as well. Also, be sure to check out our section on Military Divorce Issues. Good luck!

What is a default divorce?

Brette's Answer: A default divorce occurs when one spouse doesn't respond or appear in court and the case proceeds without him or her.

Is a default divorce valid in all states?

Clara's Question: We lived in Orlando for 4 years and then separated. I moved to Georgia and after some time got an uncontested divorce done (since I didn't know where my spouse was living at the time). Now I have moved back to Orlando and have come across my ex-husband recently. Is the divorce valid here?

Brette's Answer: The divorce is valid. You're all set as long as it was done properly and some attempt was made to locate him or notify him (even if you were unable to).

Who moves out when a divorce is filed?

Fae's Question: When someone is served divorce papers, which spouse has to move out?

Brette's Answer: The fact that a divorce case has been started has nothing to do with occupancy of the home. Filing the papers does not mean someone has to leave. You can both continue to live there, agree who will move out, or you can ask the court to decide on a motion for exclusive temporary residency of the home while the case is pending.

How do I get support until the divorce is final?

Cheryl's Question: I just filed for divorce and we have the first court date coming up. How do I get support from him until our divorce is final? I can't imagine that the court would expect that one should have to go without financial support for the duration of the process.

Brette's Answer: You need to make a motion for temporary support. You can find out more information by reading the FAQs on temporary support.

Would having sex with my husband void the divorce petition?

Jamie's Question: If you have marital relations while a divorce filing is pending, will it void the divorce? My attorney says that I could have sex with my husband the day of court and it doesn't matter. But my husband said his attorney says that if he can prove that we have had sex recently then they won't grant me the divorce.

Brette's Answer: It depends on your state law. In some states you must be separate and apart for a period of time which means no marital relations. The real question here is why are you arguing about this? If anything, it just delays the divorce. If you both agree, then just go ahead with the divorce.

Can my divorce be moved to a different county?

Harriet's Question: My divorce has been going on for the past three years, and is still pending in the courts. Can I transfer all my records to another county since I moved 150 miles away from the town where the divorce was filed?

Brette's Answer: I think you're asking if your divorce can be moved to a different locale, and the answer to that is no. It has to be heard in the state and place where the grounds for divorce occurred.

How Long Does a Divorce Take

How long does it take to get a divorce?

Vanessa's Question: How long does the divorce process take, from beginning to end?

Brette's Answer: How long it will take for your divorce to be final depends on a lot of factors - where you live, whether your husband contests it, how backed up the courts are in your area, and what you ask for. If you have an uncontested divorce it is a matter of months, but if you and your spouse do not agree you can expect it to take more than a year, up to two years. (Find out more about why divorce takes so long).

How long will it take to get an uncontested divorce?

Tracy's Question: How long does a non-contested divorce usually take?

Brette's Answer: It varies by state and also by county, but in general they are quick if there are no court backups or mandated waiting period. A couple of months should do it. I suggest you call the court clerk's office in your county and ask what to expect.

Will an existing prenuptial agreement speed up the divorce?

Renee's Question: My husband and I signed a prenuptial agreement before we got married. What effect will it have on the length of our divorce?

Brette's Answer: If you have a prenuptial agreement and no one is contesting it, your divorce would be relatively simple, unless you do not agree about what constitutes marital assets vs. separate assets.

How do I find out the status of my divorce case?

Jackie's Question: My husband filed for divorce more than six months ago, but I have not heard anything yet. How long after getting an index number (which identifies the case in the court system) are the papers good for?

Brette's Answer: You should call the court clerk's office and ask them the status of this case. Ask if they have your correct address. Normally you should have heard something by now, but there is no way of knowing the status unless you call and ask.

Why is my divorce taking so long?

Angela Asks: My divorce petition was filed two years ago and we are waiting on a hearing date. Is there anything I can do to speed up this process?

Brette's Answer: First I would talk to your attorney to find out why it is taking so long for your case to move forward. If you do not want to wait for the hearing, you and your spouse can go to mediation to see if a mediator can help you reach an agreement. Mediation is generally quicker and cheaper than a contested court hearing. Good luck.

Can I call the Judge to find out why it is taking so long?

Peg's Question: My so-called "easy" divorce is taking over 2 yrs. It was supposed to be done last March. There are no major complications, no custody issues, no debts, but lots of assets to split. I think the lawyers are lining their pockets, and we are both scratching our heads on why so long! We've never been before the Judge, and don't know what our lawyers are saying in our behalf behind closed doors. Can I personally contact our Family Court Judge to find out why it is taking so long?

Brette's Answer: The judge will not take your call. You could call his or her law clerk though. It's unlikely he or she will be able to tell you. The best course of action is to try to pin your lawyer down. Find out exactly what's going on and when. Insist that the case be wrapped up. Go to the next court appearance if you want.

What if nothing has happened since the counterclaim was filed?

Claudine's Question: I filed for the divorce based on the grounds of abandonment, and my so-called husband contested the divorce and sent his counterclaim. My lawyer sent a response and a notice of appearance to his lawyer - since then, its complete silence. My lawyer told me that he has not heard from his lawyer. Any tips on getting the divorce to move forward?

Brette's Answer: You should ask your attorney to move ahead with scheduling a court date. Good luck.

Can he take as long as he wants to sign the settlement agreement?

Jean's Question: I have had a signed mediation agreement for over a month now. Next step is the Separation Agreement to be signed. My husband will not sign this document and states he can take as long as he wants to take, even years. My attorney confirmed he can take as long as he likes also. I don't understand how this can be legal? How do I get my divorce over with - it's been almost a year.

Brette's Answer: Of course it's legal. No one can be forced to sign a voluntary agreement. If you get to the point where he won't sign it, your only option is to commence a divorce case. Have you tried asking him why he won't sign it? Does he want to renegotiate? Find that out and go from there.

Can a person get a divorce before reaching a settlement?

Jill's Question: Have you ever heard of a divorce before any settlement? What are the dangers of this?

Brette's Answer: Some courts will grant a divorce and reserve the property division to be determined at a later date. One concern can be that you no longer have the leverage of holding up the divorce to get what you want.

What if his attorney still hasn't drawn up the decree after 2 months?

Question: We went to mediation and agreed on a decree. In the papers, it states that he would get the decree drawn up by his attorney within 3 weeks. It has now been over 2 months. Is there anything I can do?

Brette's Answer: You should talk to your attorney. Often filing court documents to get the divorce going will jumpstart things.

What if he's intentionally stalling the divorce?

Shelley's Question: What can be done if a spouse is intentionally holding up the divorce, (i.e. not taking required parenting classes, refusing to settle, etc.)? My attorney says that my husband's attorney won't return phone calls. He has suggested that we can go back to court and file a motion to hold them in contempt of court and set up another court date. Can you please give us some ideas about what options we have?

Brette's Answer: Some spouses do this kind of thing as a delaying tactic. What you would need to do is make the court aware of your spouse's failure to follow through on these orders. You can go back to court with a motion, but in addition ask that he pay your attorney fees resulting from the delay. You're in a good position to have that granted. Also, if your attorney lets his attorney know you're going to ask for that, they'll be sure to quickly process the paperwork and you may be able to avoid the whole thing. Usually a court will give someone a few opportunities to follow through by threatening contempt of court and so on. Once the court is convinced the spouse will never follow through, things will move ahead.

Divorce Discovery and Financial Disclosure

Do I have to submit the requested documentation for court?

Kristie's Question: Do I have to submit requested documentation for court in a custody case... i.e. medical records, taxes, etc.? Thank you.

Brette's Answer: It depends on who is asking. Items requested as part of pre-trial discovery should be turned over, unless you want to wait for them to be subpoenaed. Items requested by the court must be provided.

Is financial disclosure required if we reach an agreement?

Jacqui's Question: Do we have to make full financial disclosure if we have reached an amicable agreement? Will it delay the divorce if we don't?

Brette's Answer: You need to complete the financial disclosure. This is important because the court can then see what your finances are and each party is aware of the finances of the other spouse. If you don't complete the financial disclosure, you won't get a divorce. You should speak with an attorney to get some advice.

How do I make him provide the financial disclosure information?

Beverley's Question: Neither my husband nor his attorney will provide me with copies of his current paycheck stub or the balance of his 401K or IRA. How do I go about getting a subpoena for release of records from my husband's 401K plan administrator, Fidelity IRA account and current paycheck stub? I was also advised to have an appraiser look at our home and personal property and value it. My husband's attorney says I have to go through him and my husband has to approve of the appraiser.

Brette's Answer: You need to ask the court to issue the subpoena on your behalf. You can hire any appraiser you want. If your husband and his attorney will not comply, you need to ask the court to direct them to comply. File a motion.

What if he doesn't provide proper documents for financial disclosure?

Patti's Question: My ex typed up the mortgage information rather than submit the bank mortgage printouts of payments He also typed up his tax-sheltered annuity figures rather than submit the company information. How can I get the proper documentation?

Brette's Answer: You just need to ask the court to order him to provide copies of the actual documents. If not, you or your attorney can just subpoena them.

What if he doesn't provide the financial affidavit within the allowed time?

Denise's Question: We're going through a divorce and had 30 days to exchange financial affidavits. I filed my financial affidavit with the court and I sent him one as required. The 30 days are up and I have not received his financial affidavit. What happens next?

Brette's Answer: The court will order him to turn it over and he'll be given a period of time in which to do so. If he doesn't comply he can be held in contempt.

Can I get a copy of the financial disclosure?

Linda's Question: Am I legally entitled to a copy of all of the financial disclosure papers that were filled out by my spouse during our divorce proceeding? My attorney has never asked me if I wanted a copy.

Brette's Answer: Most definitely. Ask for a copy immediately. Best of luck to you.

Why can't I see a copy of my husband's financial disclosure papers?

Nelly's Question: My attorney has told me that I am not entitled to a copy of my husband's financial disclosure papers. He also will not give me a copy of the psychologist report saying he isn't allowed to and lastly, he has not filed for subpoenas that I feel are important, saying that the court must do that. Is my attorney correct in his replies to me and do you have advice on these issues? Thanks again for this site and any advice you may have for me.

Brette's Answer: If the court orders certain documents to be private then they cannot be disclosed. I would suggest you ask your attorney why he won't let you see these items. If there is a subpoena the court must issue, he needs to make a motion requesting that the court do so.

Do I have to attend the deposition?

Carla's Question: I have to appear for a deposition meeting with my husband's lawyer. Since depositions are used for trial purposes, what does he need to ask me questions for? He can ask my husband. I recently found out that his lawyer called in his daughter from an ex marriage to ask her questions about me. Is this even ethical? Can I be made to attend the deposition? Your answers have helped me and other women all over the World. Thank you for that.

Brette's Answer: You ought to get your own attorney. Yes, you can be required to be deposed. A deposition gives the attorney information to help plan the case. If you had an attorney, he could depose your husband. Your husband's daughter can talk to his attorney if your husband agrees.

Are transcripts from the deposition considered private information?

Teresa's Question: Are transcripts from your deposition considered private information or can I release copies of them to whomever I choose?

Brette's Answer: Actually they are usually copyrighted by the transcriptionist and you need to purchase copies. But there is nothing to stop you from sharing them as long as the records are not sealed.

Can my husband legally access my cell phone records?

Lynn's Question: Can my husband legally get copies of my cell phone bill and records during the time we were living together? The phone is in my name only as is the bill.

Brette's Answer: Not unless he has them subpoenaed. Good luck.

Can he legally videotape me and use it in court?

Deborah's Question: We are divorcing, but are still living in the same home with our two young children. My husband has made several attempts and has possibly been successful, to either video tape me or record me when I am taking care of my children. Can he legally use this in court? Is there anything that I can do to stop him from doing this?

Brette's Answer: Ask your lawyer if it is illegal to tape someone without permission in your state. If so, the evidence would not be admissible. If it is legal, then yes, he can present the evidence to the court. If you've done nothing wrong, then the court will see that. You need to also speak with your lawyer about getting an order for exclusive residency of the home, which requires the other spouse to move out. This appears to be a volatile situation and I urge you to get legal advice and act carefully. Good luck.

Meetings, Depositions, Conferences, and Hearing

Is a divorce held in a state or federal court?

Stephanie's Question: Will our divorce be held in a state or federal court?

Brette's Answer: Divorce is always held in a state court. Good luck.

What will happen at the first meeting with our lawyers?

Holly's Question: I am going to my first meeting between my husband's attorney and mine. What kind of questions will his attorney ask me?

Brette's Answer: Since your attorney will be there, you can relax. He or she will tell you if you should answer any questions or allow him or her to speak for you. This is a settlement meeting - not a cross examination. The goal is to try to reach an agreement.

What does it mean if there's a conference scheduled?

Haydee's Question: I filed a divorce last October, and this April filed the request to enter default as ordered by the judge. I check my case status online every day and today I found out that there's a conference scheduled. What does it mean?

Brette's Answer: It depends on what it means in your area. It could mean a courtroom appearance. It could mean an off the record meeting with the judge's law clerk to just check in and see where things are at. Call the court clerk's office and ask.

What should I expect from a case management conference?

Monica's Question: My spouse and I've been separated for 18 yrs. He is in one state and I am in another. I filed for divorce because neither of us wants to move to where each other is. He hasn't signed papers, so he is in default. I am scheduled to go to a case management conference in two weeks, a bit scared and don't know what to expect.

Brette's Answer: Don't be scared! A case management conference is usually with the judge's law clerk where the attempt is usually made to settle the case. Since he hasn't appeared, it's just you. It should be very quick and simple. You'll just discuss how the case will proceed from here and what you need to do next. It's nothing to be frightened of and very straightforward.

Why are there so many court dates?

Karyn's Question: Why does it take so long and why are there so many court dates in order to get a divorce?

Brette's Answer: The explanation is that there is a procedure that must be followed and it just takes time. Is it too complicated? I think it is. I think that divorce is far too inaccessible for many people. Additionally, frankly, having many court dates is an incentive to get people to settle. The courts are busy and so court dates end up spread apart, instead of happening all at once.

Is a court appearance required if we settle our divorce?

Loretta's Question: I want to get a divorce without going to court. Can we solve this problem between our attorneys?

Brette's Answer: A court is necessary to finalize any divorce, but you do not need to go to a trial. You can reach an agreement using attorneys, or you can go to mediation and reach a settlement there. Any settlement must be submitted to and approved by the court.

Do I have to go to the final hearing if I'm not contesting the divorce?

Maria's Question: My husband filed for divorce and the date has been set. Nothing was contested, all property has been divided, our daughters are grown, etc. Do I have to attend the final hearing?

Brette's Answer: If you have signed documents agreeing to everything already, the hearing is just a formality. However, you should be aware that if you don't go, you waive your opportunity to be heard should there be a problem with something.

Does he have to appear in court if he signed the uncontested divorce papers?

Question: I am the petitioner for my divorce. My ex husband was present with me at the time I filed. I filed it as uncontested and he signed all the forms there. We both went before a judge and I was granted a waiver for the fees. If he signed all the forms agreeing to the divorce but can't go to our scheduled court date, will they still grant me the divorce or will he need to be present?

Brette's Answer: Uncontested means only one party is present. If he consented to everything, you should not have a problem.

How do I prepare for the court appearance if we reached an agreement?

Melissa's Question: I received the marital settlement agreement, had a lawyer review it, and everything seems to be in order and what we agreed to. Since I am representing myself, do I need to do anything specific besides show up for the court date? Also, will I get to see a copy of the settlement terms/papers on the court date?

Brette's Answer: Dress nicely, be on time, don't chew gum, turn off your cell phone, don't bring food or drink, and try not to be nervous. It is likely the judge will ask you a few questions. Just answer them honestly. If you'd like, you can be sure the document the court has matches the one you signed. Just ask if you can examine it. (Get more tips for testifying in court)

What should I expect from the first court hearing?

C's Question: What can I expect at my first court hearing? I have filed for a legal separation on the grounds of abandonment and desertion. Do I need to have proof of this before the hearing?

Brette's Answer: You need to determine if it is an appearance or an actual hearing/trial. At a hearing you would be expected to present evidence and testimony.

Can I submit a letter for the judge to read before the hearing?

Z's Question: My lawyer quit on me just a few weeks before a hearing, because he and my husband lawyers were not able to work together. He is telling me I have to go to the hearing by myself. Can I write a letter to the judge and explain everything, before going to the hearing?

Brette's Answer: The judge won't read your letter since it is ex parte, out of court. Any communication with the judge must take place with the other side present. You can hire another lawyer if you'd like and the case can be postponed for that person to get up to speed.

How can I represent myself in court if I can't speak?

Question: My lawyer withdrew from my case. I checked the online docket of the court and see that the court made me pro se. Now the judge has decided to finish the divorce decree. I wrote my husband's lawyer that there are outstanding items (husband refuses to pay money he owes me, refuses to give me copies of my IRS taxes he has kept for all of the years, and my premarital belongings) before divorce decree goes through. He refuses to cooperate. The court knows I am disabled and cannot speak. I asked the judicial support office if I may write to the judge and no one has responded. Now I see in the docket that divorce records were sent to husband's attorney. Does this sound legal?

Brette's Answer: Yes, records in the case are available to either party. You could hire another attorney. You are saying you are disabled and unable to speak - I would suggest you bring someone with you to the next court appearance who can communicate on your behalf so that the court understands you disability. You could also have someone call the court clerk's office in advance and explain this situation. Your rights are not protected if you cannot communicate during the proceeding. Accommodations must be made.

Can I sit with my daughter when she goes to court for her divorce?

John's Question: Can I sit with my daughter in court as she does not have an attorney, not as representation but only support?

Brette's Answer: That will be up to the judge. You might be directed to sit behind her, not at the table with her.

What if he doesn't show up for the court hearing?

Helen's Question: I have filed for a divorce from my alcoholic husband. The first hearing is scheduled in two weeks. Initially my husband promised to sign the papers, but I am not sure if he will even show up in court. What will happen if he does not?

Brette's Answer: Assuming he was legally served, the case will proceed as uncontested. This means that by not showing up, he takes himself out of the equation. He has no say or input on the case from that point forward. The judge will consider the requests you make and make all the decisions - alimony, property, custody, child support and so on, without his point of view at all.

Will the divorce hearing still be held if I don’t have a lawyer yet?

Analisa's Question: I was given 18 days by the judge to get a lawyer and l don’t have one yet (financial reasons), and court is tomorrow. Can the hearing proceed even though l don’t have a lawyer?

Brette's Answer: If you didn’t get a lawyer in the time the judge gave you then you can move forward representing yourself. However you can still get an attorney at any time 

Can the court appearance be postponed until I get a lawyer?

Karen's Question: I was just served with divorce papers, and the court date is less than a week away. I have no money or lawyer at this time. How can I get the court appearance postponed until I have time to get a lawyer?

Brette's Answer: You have several options. Call the court clerk and ask for a postponement. If they will not postpone in time for you to have counsel, appear at the court date and tell the judge you need time to have an attorney review the papers. This sometimes works unless it is scheduled for trial and the judge feels you've had ample opportunity to retain counsel. You could also hire someone and have him call to postpone.

Can I postpone the court hearing because of my job?

Latifa's Question: I just started a new job, and can't attend a court hearing for child support. Can I have it postponed?

Brette's Answer: If you are unable to attend, you call the court clerk and ask to have it rescheduled. You should explain why you want to change it. You may be required to get permission from the other side. Be aware that sometimes a court will not reschedule a court hearing - you're expected to adjust your life around the court's schedule and not vice versa.

Will he miss the court hearing if he's in jail?

Question: I was just wondering if your husband is in jail, will they transport him to family court? Or will he have to miss our hearing?

Brette's Answer: In most states he is transported. Good luck.

Is there a time limit on ordered settlement conferences?

Lee Ann's Question: The judge spoke with my attorney in a conference call, and ordered "the parties and their counsel to meet for an unsupervised settlement conference. This was over four months ago. My husband's attorney has never replied to repeated attempts by my attorney to schedule this meeting. Is there any time limit on how long they have to respond? Or do I just have to wait?

Brette's Answer: You really need to talk to your attorney about this. Some states have time limits in which they want cases concluded. 4 months is a long time to wait for a conference. I think you should call your attorney and press him or her about this and say you need to get this resolved and he or she needs to get in touch with the other attorney. If there is truly no response from the other side, the case can go back to court.

Dismissal of a Divorce Case

How can we find out why the judge won't sign our divorce papers?

Dawn's Question: The court sent us both a letter stating that the judge couldn't sign the divorce degree because apparently they found errors. Will they let us know what was not correct when we go to the courthouse? We followed every all the steps of divorce and waited 90 days.

Brette's Answer: Call the court clerk's office and ask them what's wrong what needs to be corrected. 

Why is my divorce in the dismissal process?

Jennifer's Question: What if my divorce is in the dismissal process, but the court is stating they haven't received all of the documents from the petitioner? The courts also say they haven't heard from either party, but I call once a week.

Brette's Answer: Calling is not a legal response to a divorce case. Papers have to be filed by certain deadlines. If you are not the petitioner you can file a cross-petition to get things going.

What does it mean if the court says your case has been dismissed?

Connie's Question: What does it mean when the court says your case has been dismissed? I have mailed out the papers 3 times and all 3 times they have come back.

Brette's Answer: It means the case has been closed by the court, often because a deadline has been missed or because the judge felt it had no merit. Call the court clerk's office and find out what happened. You can probably open a new case.

Can he get file a motion to dismiss if I filed for divorce?

Sharon's Question: I filed for divorce from an abusive man. Now he has filed a 'motion to dismiss' - this seems crazy since I filed the divorce papers. Can he actually get the divorce stopped? I refuse to go back with him!!!

Brette's Answer: Do you have an attorney? If so, I suggest you talk with him or her about this. There are lots of things that happen in a divorce case that might seem to make no sense but which are part of the way the process and the back and forth works. No one can make you go back to him and in most states you can get a divorce whether he agrees or not.

Post-divorce Issues and Remarriage

What if my ex keeps taking me back to court after our divorce?

Kelli's Question: One full year after our divorce, my ex is taking me back to court a 2nd time claiming contempt, that I am preventing the sale of our house, which I occupy. The first time realtors were present stating that I have been cooperative and nothing is out of line. I think my ex is doing this because he knows that I need to retain an attorney and cannot afford to do so. Can I counter-sue requiring him to pay my legal expenses if he keeps doing this?

Brette Answers: Yes, you can make a motion that he pay your fees and be penalized for bringing cases without merit.

Could I be arrested if he's accusing me of lying in the divorce?

Gracy: I've been divorced for 2 years. My ex-husband calls and leaves message telling me that he is going to have me arrested because there are things that are not true in our divorce. We did our divorce ourselves, and to my knowledge, there is nothing false in it. We both went before the Judge and swore that everything was true, and we were both happy with the divorce. Do I have anything to worry about?

Brette's Answer: If you included nothing that is untrue, you have nothing to worry about. Yes, technically if you included false information you could be charged with perjury, but that would be up to the district attorney and it's likely no one would be interested in pursuing anything as small as this.

Do the Mississippi cohabitation laws apply if I left the state are my divorce?

Candace's Question: In Mississippi there is a law that you can't live with someone of the other sex unless you're married to them or they are family. My divorce was final in Mississippi, but I now live in PA. Do I still have to follow that law?

Brette's Answer: No. Not unless your divorce decree specifies that as a term.

Can I get engaged before the divorce is finalized?

Sheri's Question: I filed for divorce over two years ago, and my ex has refused to sign the papers. Can I get engaged before my papers are signed?

Brette: Yes, you can get engaged while your divorce is pending. Being engaged means nothing in the eyes of the state because is not a legal contract like a marriage. Being engaged could impact your divorce though, since it raises the issue of adultery.

How soon can I remarry after I file for a divorce?

Nicky's Question: I want to get remarried and have started the divorce proceeding, but my ex didn't sign the papers and we have to go back to court. How long do I have to wait before I can remarry?

Brette's Answer: You cannot remarry until your divorce is final. Once it is final you are free to remarry. Some states have a waiting period that must be met before you remarry, so be sure to check the laws of your state.

Could a judge declare me single before the divorce is final?

Kesha's Question: How can I get a Judge to declare me single before my papers are final and can I get married before my papers come?

Brette's Answer: You're not single until your papers are finalized and no judge can make an exception. Good luck.

Can I get remarried if I haven't received the finalized divorce papers?

Sherry's Question: The judge signed the divorce, but still didn't receive the paper from my lawyer. Can I get remarried now or I need to have the divorce papers in hand?

Brette's Answer: It would be best to wait to be certain the divorce has been finalized before remarrying.

Can the court destroy the original marriage license after the divorce?

Stacey's Question: Can the court destroy your marriage license after you get divorced, so the next time you get married the other person won't know you were married before?

Brette's Answer: No. Marriages are a matter of public record. Someone would only know about a previous marriage if they actually went and searched for it though.

Will a Canadian divorce be recognized in the US?

Angela's Question: I was married to the same man twice, first in Canada then in New York one month later. The Canadian court said they divorced us in both countries. Is this legal or am I still married to him?

Brette's Answer: The U.S. recognizes marriages and divorces entered by other countries, so it is legal.