What Happens After Divorce Papers are Filed?

what happens after divorce papers are filed

By Jackie Pilossoph, Founder, Divorced Girl Smiling, the place to find trusted, vetted divorce professionals, a podcast, website and mobile app.

Divorced Girl Smiling received an email from a guy basically saying, “I got served divorce papers! Now what?!” So, I thought I’d write about what happens after divorce papers are filed.

My first piece of advice for what happens after divorce papers are filed is, despite what some people think, this isn’t really the start of a divorce. Divorce can start five years before divorce papers are filed by either party. But, when someone files for divorce, that is the OFFICIAL start of a divorce: a process that can last two months or six years. I’ve seen both and everything in between.

A divorce ends OFFICIALLY when the two people go to court, stand in front of a judge with an agreement in hand, and the judge signs it and declares them divorced. Or, they go to trial and when that decision is made by a judge or jury, they are officially divorced. But, we all know a divorce decree isn’t the end of a divorce. A divorce never ends, in my opinion, especially when the couple has kids.

What happens after divorce papers are filed?

I’ll try to explain this as general as possible, but remember that every divorce case is different. First, if you get served divorce papers, don’t panic. Try not to get upset. You knew this was coming, right? Or maybe you didn’t. That would be awful, so if that’s you, I’m so sorry.

The first thing you need when you get served is to have a consultation with one or more divorce attorneys. Ask questions, get to know the attorney and your gut will tell you if he or she is a good fit for your case. Remember that YOU are interviewing the attorney and you will be paying him or her, so it’s OK to be picky.

Do not hire an attorney you don’t trust. If it doesn’t feel right, it isn’t right.

The attorney will most likely ask for money upfront (a retainer.) This is normal.


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From here, you can hopefully trust your attorney for the next steps. In the papers filed, it will have a deadline for you to respond. The attorney will help you. 

Next, educate yourself on the different ways to get divorced. YOU HAVE OPTIONS!

Here are your options:

1. Settle things with your soon to be ex on your own or with both of your attorneys (I actually got divorced that way after some litigation)

2. Mediation. A mediator helps you and your spouse come to a settlement.

3. Collaborative divorce. A team helps you get divorced.

4. Litigation. (if there is no way the two of you can come to agreements on your own.). It costs the most and a judge is making life decisions for you. But, you you have an unreasonable spouse or you are unreasonable, litigation might be the only option.

During the period after divorce papers are filed, here are some bombs that can be dropped that you might not see coming. They stem from anger and fear:

1. Your ex sues for sole custody. (that’s the worst one)
2. Your ex accuses you of something that is untrue.


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3. Your ex’s opinion of child support is completely different than what you think is fair.
4. Your ex refuses to settle. Seems like he/she thrives on battling, which can only mean more legal fees.
5. Your monthly statements come in the mail from your attorney and you seriously feel like throwing up.
6. You come to get your kids and your ex isn’t speaking to you (seems particularly angry-even though he/she is angry all the time) and you have no idea why.
7. Your kids will be more on edge because you are.
8. You will fight more with your soon-to-be ex because both of you are much more on edge.



What I experienced, and what I have seen others experience is that the time after divorce papers are filed is a time of turmoil, chaos and stress. There’s a lot of uncertainty and surprises (not fun ones). It’s a roller coaster ride. One day your attorney tells you your ex is going to settle, the next, your ex changes his/her mind and you’re back in court.

Here’s the good news. It will end someday, and that is a very very very good day.

You walk out of court and your divorce is finalized, and yes, there is sadness, but for me, most of it was relief: no more uncertainty, so no more being afraid. The terms are on a piece of paper that I’m holding in my hand. No more attorney’s fees. No more fighting, because you already legally settled it. There is a sense of peace that occurs. It’s really a nice reprieve and makes you feel hopeful and optimistic.

I also find that ex’s become more civil and kind to each other because a ton of pressure was just lifted off of them.



Of course, there is the possibility that some people don’t follow divorce decrees and you could end up back in court, but that’s something you have to accept as a possibility and try not to worry about.

“I got served divorce papers” eventually turns into “My divorce was just final,” and then hopefully turns into, “My ex and I are very amicable, the kids are great, and by the way, I’m in love!”



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    Divorced Girl Smiling welcome video
    Jackie Pilossoph

    Editor-in-chief: Jackie Pilossoph

    Jackie Pilossoph is the Founder of Divorced Girl Smiling, the media company that connects people facing with divorce to trusted, vetted divorce professionals. Pilossoph is a former NBC affiliate television journalist and Chicago Tribune/Pioneer Press features reporter. Her syndicated column, Love Essentially was published in the Chicago Tribune/Pioneer Press and Tribune owned publications for 7 1/2 years. Pilossoph holds a Masters degree in journalism from Boston University. Learn more at: DivorcedGirlSmiling.com

    8 Responses to “What Happens After Divorce Papers are Filed?”

    1. Cheryl

      Timely post, I’m expecting to receive mine within the next week and am scared of what is to follow. I am beginning to realize that a lot of my emotions are coming from the fear of the divorce process and not so much the end of my 12 year marriage. I will continue to read all of your blogs, they have been most helpful..especially taking the high road. My thoughts are with anyone going through this, it’s the most uncomfortable feeling I’ve ever felt.

    2. Liv

      I hate to say it – but I’m not a huge fan of this type of advice. If you’ve been served with divorce papers, you need to take a big breath, put on your big boy pants, and walk into the whole process trying to be as amicable as possible. Try to find some common ground, get a mediator, and get it done as quickly and painlessly as possible. Especially if there are children involved. Only bring out the big guns if you’ve tried that and you have no other alternative. Sorry – I’m normally a big fan of your advice – this one didn’t sit right with me.

      • Jackie Pilossoph

        You make it sound really easy, which we all know it isn’t. I think my advice and your advice is similar. You say “put on your big boy pants,” I say, “get tough.” The difference is (besides the length of the post) that I am trying to offer concrete coping mechanisms because while your advice is good, we all know it’s never that simple or easy. It’s easy to tell someone to “get a mediator” or “get it done as quickly as possible,” but I’ve rarely seen that happen. Sad, but true.

    3. Tonya

      My ex signed the second draft of divorce papers today. They are now in my attorney’s hand. Our court date is beginning of next month. I don’t see this next month as being a rollercoaster especially in comparison to the first few months of the separation. That was awful. I’m now in the stage of being ready for it to be finalized. Looking forward to bigger and better things in my future!

    4. Maria

      Excellent Advice! I’m both divorced and a divorce attorney so I understand it from all sides. Great insight and great blog!

    5. Brittnii Brittnii King

      My divorced papers has just been filed and approved what do I need to do next


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