Every divorce action is a little different. However, below are more or less the steps involved in any divorce.
1. You or your spouse establishes a "separation date."
The "separation date" in a divorce action is very important to the outcome of your case. The court will view the separation date as the date to base all of its calculations relating to assets and debts. This is the date that you or your spouse has emotionally decided that it is time to end the marriage. While, the date can seem quite arbitrary, do not underestimate the importance of establishing this date.
2. You or your spouse decides to file for divorce.
There's a lot that goes into this step, including finding the right lawyer and coming to terms with the finality of this decision. Your lawyer will file numerous documents with the Family Court in your county of residence. These documents, depending on the attorney you choose, can include with the Petition for Divorce and Financial Statement, a Motion for Temporary Relief and Proposed Parenting Plan and numerous other documents. There is a lot of leg work involved upfront in a divorce action. Therefore, it is very important that you compile all of yours and your spouse's financials, including retirement statements, bank statements, credit card statements, and the previous two years of tax returns. Depending on how you file your divorce action, you can set the tone early on in your favor.
3. The Judge sets a hearing on your case.
At this point the Judge has set your case for a hearing in order to determine what issues are involved in your case. Generally, the basic process will consist of two hearings in total. The first hearing will determine whether a divorce or "bifurcation of the marriage" is granted. The next hearing will occur to determine a fair and equitable financial settlement between the parties. Sometimes the process is not this structured or simple however. This greatly depends on the nature and complexity of your case.
4. The Judge will decide who gets custody (if children are involved).
From the outset, if children are involved in your divorce action the court will be very involved. This will include the imposition of a temporary parenting plan while your case proceeds and will culminate with a final decree stating what the parenting plan and custody arrangement will be going forward after divorce. The court takes its decisions with regard to children very seriously and you should know that the "best interest of the child" will always prevail in any matter. It is extremely important to consider child custody and child support issues early on in the process--even before filing in order to prepare for this.
5. A settlement is reached or the Judge issues a final ruling and divorce decree.
At this point, the parties have sat down and settled any outstanding issues and will ask the Judge to ratify the agreement or the parties will go to the final hearing and "duke it out" in front of the Judge. In any event, the Judge will issue a final divorce decree, which will mark the end of your divorce action. This divorce decree will dictate everything going forward, such as what happens to the marital property, who gets custody, child support, alimony (if applicable), and any other details from issued decided during your divorce action. It is very important to follow this divorce decree to the letter, as a party may be held in contempt by the court at a later date if they chose not to.