It’s a common question that I am asked: “I’ve decided to get a divorce.  What do I do first?”  This is a brief discussion of the most common response to that answer.  Of course, every situation is different and the specific answer may vary a bit.  Always consult with an attorney prior to taking any forward steps in the divorce, or any other legal, process.

First, you must file a Petition for Dissolution.  This document “opens” up a case and must be filed whether the spouses agree on the terms of their divorce or not.  It is the document that, either very generally or very specifically, identifies the issues that must be dealt with in the context of the divorce.  For example, are there children for whom the Court must make legal decision-making (read our previous blog on legal decision-making terms by clicking here), parenting time (visitation), and child support orders?  Is a spouse requesting spousal maintenance (alimony)?  Are there community assets and debts to divide?  Are there sole and separate assets or debts that need to be affirmed?  Depending on the circumstances, some or all of these issues will be relevant and there should be something stated about each relevant issue in a Petition for Dissolution so that it is clear that it will be something for the Court to make orders about.

Second, you must serve your Petition for Dissolution along with the other documents that get filed along with it.  Service can be accomplished formally, by a process server or sheriff’s deputy, or informally by the Respondent-spouse signing a document called an “Acceptance of Service” which would be filed with the Court.  The Petitioner-spouse may not serve the Respondent-spouse by simply handing them the papers unless the Respondent-spouse also signs the Acceptance of Service.  Sometimes it is necessary for other processes, like publication, to be used in order to accomplish service.  These processes should be discussed with an attorney prior to attempting them to ensure it is a proper course of action for your situation.

Third, once service has been accomplished, two “clocks” start to run at the same time.  The first is a “Response Time” clock.  The Respondent-spouse will have 20 days from the date on which they were served (formally or by Acceptance of Service) to file a Response before they risk being found in “Default.”  The second is a “Cooling Off Period” clock which is a statutory requirement that no divorce be made final for the first 60 days after service is accomplished.

From here, the divorce process can take several different paths towards becoming finalized.  Anyone in the process, or contemplating beginning the journey, is highly encouraged to consult with an attorney about their specific matter and circumstances.

This blog should be used for informational purposes only.  It does not create an attorney-client relationship with any reader and should not be construed as legal advice.  If you need legal advice, please feel free to contact Lindsay A. M. Olivarez at or contact an attorney in your community.