Ending a marriage is never easy, and it’s essential to take the decision to divorce very seriously. Unfortunately, many people hold misconceptions about the divorce process and what to expect when filing their divorce petitions. The reality is that divorce is more complex than most people initially realize, and they are not prepared for the full range of procedural red tape they must navigate to complete the process. Additionally, every state has unique laws pertaining to divorce. Therefore, if you are planning to end your marriage in the Midwest, you need to not only understand your state’s divorce laws but also know the specific steps you will need to complete to finalize your divorce.

Divorce informally begins once a spouse or a couple decides to end their marriage. The divorce process does not formally begin until a divorce petition is submitted to the local family court. However, while this may sound simple enough, you must realize that submitting your divorce petition will kick off a series of formal legal proceedings you must be prepared to endure. Therefore, before you submit your divorce petition, it’s a good idea to know the basic timeline of a Midwest divorce and the value of legal representation as you begin this complex process.

Steps of the divorce process

Understanding Divorce Petitions

Divorce proceedings begin when a married spouse files a divorce petition with their local family court. Many people mistakenly believe that it is always best to be the one to file the divorce petition. This is not true, and being the first to file a divorce petition does not offer any legal advantage at all. Additionally, it does not matter if the petitioner lists a specific cause for divorce; most states simply acknowledge “irreconcilable differences” as a blanket justification for any divorce case. The only exception would be if a spouse is filing for divorce in response to their spouse’s criminal behavior, such as domestic violence or child abuse. The spouses involved are likely embroiled in criminal and civil court proceedings alongside their divorce cases in these situations.

Some divorce petitions are filed jointly by married spouses, while most are filed by just one spouse. Jointly filed divorce petitions are typically only suitable for couples who have not been married very long or who agree on all aspects of their divorces. This type of “uncontested” divorce is very rare in the Midwest, and almost every divorce case will involve some level of negotiation or litigation. When one spouse files a divorce petition, they must include their preferred divorce terms. The court then serves formal divorce papers to the other spouse, and the respondent has the opportunity to agree to the petitioner’s terms or contest the terms.

The vast majority of divorces filed in the Midwest are contested, and the spouses involved must reach mutually agreeable terms to finalize their divorces. Once the divorce petition is filed, and the respondent has replied to the court, the divorce can proceed in several possible directions.

Alternative Dispute Resolution and Litigation

Divorcing spouses in a contested divorce must reach an uncontested state one way or another. While it’s possible to litigate divorce and have a judge rule on every aspect of the couple’s terms, most couples today choose alternative dispute resolution to streamline the process. For example, alternative dispute resolution such as collaborative divorce or mediation typically provides substantial savings of time and money. In addition, the divorcing spouses can more easily customize the terms of their divorces.

Once a divorce petition has been filed, and the respondent has offered their reply, the divorcing couple must address any outstanding issues in their contested divorce until they reach an uncontested state with mutually agreeable terms. It’s typically best to fully explore alternative dispute resolution, which is true even for couples who cannot seem to agree to anything. Private alternative dispute resolution almost always benefits both spouses, even if they cannot resolve all of their divorce-related issues in their sessions.

It’s possible to resolve as much as possible in a divorce through alternative dispute resolution before proceeding to litigation. A couple may reach agreeable terms on multiple aspects of their divorce but require a judge to settle the remaining issues. In some cases, some degree of litigation is unavoidable no matter what the couple accomplishes in mediation or collaborative divorce sessions. Specifically, child custody and child support cannot be settled privately. The court must verify that the couple’s divorce order suits the best interests of their children.

Finalizing Your Divorce in the Midwest

Eventually, the divorcing spouses will reach an uncontested state and have a set of mutually agreeable divorce terms to bring before a Midwest family court judge. The judge will review the details of their divorce settlement to ensure it aligns with state law. If the judge finds everything in order, they will finalize the divorce. Some states enforce waiting periods that must be met before a divorce can be finalized, and some states impose mandatory separation periods before a divorce is approved. Verify your state’s laws to determine how long it will take to finalize your divorce. It’s possible that you could complete your divorce proceedings before the mandatory waiting period has expired, in which case you would simply wait out the rest of the waiting period to have your divorce finalized.

Finalizing your divorce may be equal parts relieving and distressful. It can also feel like the beginning of the next phase of your life. Whatever your divorce entails, it’s important to remember that you may need to eventually return to court regarding your divorce order. This is especially true if you have children with your ex. It’s common for life events to render family court order untenable, and the parties involved must return to court to have a judge alter their family court orders appropriately. This is another reason that hiring reliable legal counsel is crucial for any Midwest divorce. If you are planning to end your marriage soon, consult an experienced Midwest divorce attorney as soon as possible to secure the representation you need.