One spouse must file a legal petition requesting to terminate the marriage to get a divorce. The petition typically must show that at least one person meets the state’s residency requirements for divorce. Additionally, a reason or grounds for divorce must be provided. Different states may have further requirements.

The divorce process can take 12 months or more. So you can request temporary court orders at this point to address child support, child custody, and spousal support until the divorce agreement is finalized.

Next, you must file a “proof of service” with the court. This shows the court that you met the requirements for serving your spouse a copy of the divorce petition.

At this point, you and your spouse can negotiate to try and reach an agreement, including decisions about the division of assets, child custody, child support, and alimony.

If successful, you can avoid going to court. However, if you and your spouse can’t agree on the details, you’ll have to have a trial before a judge. In this case, the judge will make the decisions about the divorce agreement after hearing both sides, such as how assets are decided, child custody and support arrangements, and alimony.

Once an agreement is reached, a judge signs the judgment of divorce, which legally ends the marriage.

Divorce mediation

Divorce mediation provides an alternative way to negotiate your divorce agreement without going through a court trial.

In mediation, a trained, third-party mediator assists you and your spouse in reaching an agreement so you can finalize your divorce. For instance, a mediator may help a couple address issues regarding the division of assets, child support, child custody, and alimony.

Unlike a judge, a mediator does not make the decision. Instead, they facilitate the discussion to help the spouses come to a mutual agreement.

Divorce mediation is typically cheaper and faster than going before a judge. Plus, there is no public record, and the spouses have more say and control over the decisions made.

Divorce decree vs. divorce certificate

A divorce decree and a divorce certificate are proof of divorce. But, these documents are not the same.

A divorce decree or judgment of dissolution (JOD) is the court order that officially ends the marriage. It includes the court’s final orders regarding the divorce agreement, such as the division of assets, child support, and alimony.

However, a divorce certificate is an official document that provides proof of the divorce. It’s issued by the health department or office of vital records, depending on the state. It’s a brief document — usually one page. It can be used when applying to change your name or for a marriage certificate but does not include the agreement’s details like the divorce decree.

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