What To Expect During The Divorce Process

Updated June 14, 2024by Regain Editorial Team

Divorce can be a challenging experience for all involved, no matter what the underlying reason for the split is. There are often complex emotional, logistical, and legal situations people face when going through a divorce or legal separation. Each individual is unique, as is each couple, so your divorce process will probably be unlike any you’ve witnessed or heard about before. Having a general idea of what to expect, though, can be helpful while navigating your divorce.

Logistical issues to consider upon agreeing to divorce

Wondering what to expect during the divorce process?

When beginning the divorce process, some important issues you may want to consider upfront include:

  • Understanding the laws in your state. Divorce and separation laws vary from state to state, so it’s probably important to understand that the legal proceedings of the divorce process will likely need to align with what your state allows and requires.
  • Deciding if you need to hire an attorney, such as a family law attorney, and looking into whether you might resolve the divorce without one and a trial. You might, for example, be able to come to terms with your spouse with the help of a mediator or through an uncontested divorce. A judge will still need to declare the mediated agreement to be final, in most cases. Divorce-related matters you might need to consider are alimony or spousal support, division of property and debt, and child custody if you have children under 18.
  • Preparing for a parenting agreement if you have children who are under 18, such as child support or shared custody.
  • Deciding on living arrangements, such as who, if anyone, might live within your marital property and who needs to live elsewhere.
  • Taking steps to separate other aspects of your lives, such as bank accounts, insurance policies, passwords, and more.

What is mediation?

Mediation is a situation where both spouses typically meet with a trained mediator who is a credentialed professional in mediating divorce settlements. The mediator usually talks with both spouses and can help them discuss and resolve disagreements regarding the divorce, such as finances, property division, alimony/spousal support, and custody and visitation with any minor children.

Mediators are usually not able to offer legal advice or make decisions. They generally help facilitate the couple’s communication and help them try to determine what will work best for their situation. Many mediators can draft a divorce settlement agreement to file with a court if an agreement is established through mediation. You may still seek legal advice from a lawyer if you choose mediation.

Benefits of mediation may include:

  • Cost: Mediation can sometimes be much less expensive than a trial.
  • Control: The couple can often control the process rather than in court. You may also be able to come to a resolution based on what you both believe is fair rather than having an agreement imposed by a court.
  • Communication: Mediation might help with communication between spouses. That can be a healthy step towards avoiding conflict if future interactions are necessary.

Mediation may not be the best option if:

  • Mistrust or deceit is suspected, such as when a spouse is hiding assets, lying, or not making full revelations.
  • A spouse is trying to delay proceedings or avoid paying support.
  • A spouse is claiming the other is legally at fault for ending the marriage. (This claim is not legally viable in some states that are considered “no-fault”).
  • The relationship involved domestic violence.

If you or a loved one is experiencing abuse, contact the Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Support is available 24/7.

Finding an attorney

If you think it might be in your best interest to hire a lawyer for your divorce case, there are steps you can take that might help you find an attorney who will work well with you:

  1. Search for a qualified attorney: If you choose to retain a divorce attorney, it could be good to look for one with relevant current credentials. You might ask for referrals from family, friends, or another lawyer. Feel free to check the lawyer’s credentials and investigate their background to determine whether you feel confident that they have the experience and aptitude to handle your case.
  2. Ask about cost: Asking an attorney how you’ll be charged, what you’ll be charged for, and at what rates can help you know what to expect financially. For instance, will you need to pay a retainer (a fee upfront)? Will you be charged for each phone call? Will you be charged for interactions with assistants? How much does the attorney estimate you’ll need to pay for the entire divorce proceedings? These can be extremely useful questions.
  3. Find an attorney who may be a good fit for you: In some cases, you can have a free consultation with an attorney to see if you feel they will meet your needs. Do you feel that they will listen to your concerns? Do they have a strategy for your case that you find agreeable? Do they have an estimate of how long the process will take?

During the divorce process, try to come prepared

You may never see more paper produced in your life than what is required for a divorce, especially one contested in a court of law. There are many divorce papers involved that you will have to review. It can be helpful to get a jump on things so that if your attorney needs certain paperwork, for instance, you can have it ready in an instant. They may need to provide copies of documents to opposing counsel or reference them in a motion being made to the court.

Examples of documents that may be needed in a divorce include tax returns, paycheck stubs or proof of monthly income, credit card statements, utility bills, a list of marital assets and debts, and copies of all documents related to checking and savings accounts, as well as retirement information and information related to other investment accounts and properties. It’s often wise to gather and copy important documents before you even hire an attorney.

You may also want to prepare yourself for what the process will hold in other areas. You might ask your attorney to help you through this. Asking questions such as the following may be helpful: 

  • What should I be prepared for regarding assets and debt division? 
  • What about any necessary parenting agreements? 
  • How about spousal support? 
  • What are my options? 
  • What does the law say?

You may want to expect the unexpected in court

Divorce can be a lengthy process, especially contested divorce. Many people may feel disappointed to learn that their divorces are not resolved as quickly as they expected or hoped to. The legal process can be slow and complex at times. You might learn unexpected information during the divorce process.

When in court, witnesses may issue testimony you don’t expect. A particular ruling—or aspects of it—may come as a surprise. Your attorney can help you handle the unexpected, and you can feel prepared for what may occur. In some cases, your divorce case may even rise to the level of the supreme court, although this is not common with standard divorces.

Managing your emotions during the divorce process

People going through a divorce may experience a range of emotions, such as anger, sadness, grief, and worry. They may question themselves and their role in the marriage. They may experience self-doubt or shame for ending a marriage. They may feel frustrated or confused about marriage and divorce. These emotions can be quite common during something as significant as a marriage dissolution. There are proactive steps you can take that may help you manage intense emotions.

Tips for managing your emotions during divorce might include:

  • Being kind to yourself. It’s okay to feel emotions. It’s also okay if you don’t meet certain expectations you might have of yourself. Taking time to heal and regroup can help.
  • Connecting with others. You might find help from a divorce support group. You might also find support from friends and family. Time with them does not always have to be spent discussing divorce. It can be healthy to connect with others just for enjoyment or to listen to what’s going on in their lives.
  • Taking care of your physical health. 
  • Avoiding arguments and power struggles with your spouse. If a conversation becomes argumentative, it’s okay to end it and propose that you pick it up later when things have cooled off.
  • Focusing on positive thoughts and actions. Divorce can be stressful, but focusing on the positive can help. Are there good things happening in your life—even if they’re small? Can you find a way to make something good happen? Can you start a new tradition or get into a new habit of doing something that brings you a bit of joy?

If you have children, take care to help them with their emotions, too:

Wondering what to expect during the divorce process?

  • Try to reassure them that the divorce is not their fault.
  • Try to listen to their concerns and respond directly and compassionately.
  • Try to let your children know that they can rely on you and that you’re dependable. Maintaining stability, routines, and consistency can be particularly important when the home life may be disrupted because of divorce.
  • Try to refrain from using children as your sounding board. Your emotions are important, but it can be challenging for children to feel as if they must be involved in certain parts of your divorce.
  • Try not to put children in the position to hear about parental conflict or listen to negative talk about the other parent. Their emotional health is vital. If there is a question about whether a child should or should not hear certain information about a parent, seeking input and advice from a licensed mental health professional can be helpful.

Accepting the end of a relationship

When a marriage ends, you may experience a range of emotions. For instance, you might feel like you let yourself down or that you didn’t succeed in “saving” the relationship. You may question whether you could have done something differently to continue the relationship, or you may feel that you “wasted” years with your spouse. You may also feel like you’ve temporarily lost your sense of self. Not only has your identity as part of a couple changed, but you may also feel like the person you once loved is gone, and now an imposter is walking around wearing their face.

Divorce can feel like the loss of something that, at one time, had so much potential that made the both of you happy and that you thought would last the rest of your life. Seeing that come to an end can evoke grief. It is possible, though, to find a sense of acceptance and to move forward. You may discover that you can still acknowledge ways that you grew through the relationship and its eventual ending. You CAN live a happy, healthy life after divorce.

Online therapy may help you ease into post-divorce life

If you are going through a divorce or experiencing relationship concerns, an online therapist can help you understand your emotions and find a path to move forward in a healthy, positive way. Providers such as Regain are staffed with licensed mental health professionals who can connect with you online and offer you individualized support that may benefit you and your loved ones. You may also find it easier to carve out time for therapy when you don’t have to address parking, long commutes, and other challenges that sometimes present with in-person counseling.

As technology has helped allow online therapy to proliferate and flourish, many studies have been conducted to gauge the effectiveness of online counseling. The American Psychological Association reported on a study that showed online cognitive behavioral therapy was, in many cases, just as effective as traditional, in-person therapy at reducing symptoms of several mental health conditions.

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