No two divorces are exactly alike. Every marital breakup has unique legal, financial, and/orparenting issues that require their own resolution strategies. But every divorce undergoes the same general journey from initiation to closure. Whether you and your spouse make this journey cheaper and faster is up to you, but the destination is always the same: from shared to separate lives.
Here's a basic primer of how the divorce process works in the United States and Canada. Bear in mind, however, that I'm not a legal professional. You'll want to speak to a family lawyer to find out how the options vary in your state or province, as well as how your own situation affects the process.
Temporary orders and filing the divorce papers
One of the first things you and your spouse have to do after you separate is to get a "temporary order" or agreement. This is extremely important, because it could set the precedent for your final divorce settlement. A temporary order/agreement establishes quick decisions about the children, property, bank accounts, and other issues that may be important between the separation and the final outcome. For example, if one spouse moves out of the home and the other has no income, how will the latter feed the kids and pay the bills? For more information about temporary orders, click here.
You should hire a divorce lawyer and/or mediator, and financial advisor, as soon as possible. You'll set your temporary order/agreement in a brief, relatively informal hearing before a judge -- so prepare a complete list of what you want to request in advance. Among items you can request: temporary custody and visitation arrangements; a restraining order so your spouse won't contact you; child or spousal support; and/or who gets the car and house.
Next, you or your spouse files a petition, application, or complaint for divorce with your local family court. The person who files, or plaintiff, serves a Summons upon the other spouse stating that they want a divorce and what they are seeking in terms of property, child custody, support, etc. The other spouse, or defendant, must answer the Summons and, if they wish, can make their own claim.
Check DivorceMagazine.com for information on the grounds for divorce in your state or province. Most states and all Canadian provinces, however, don't require fault as a prerequisite -- so you don't have to justify filing by accusing your spouse of wrongdoing.