When is a Divorce Final?

July 22, 2013  |  Elizabeth A. Schading

Many parts of your life will seem to go “on hold” when you are getting a divorce. It’s important to understand when a divorce is final so that you don’t start engaging in activities (like dating) that should really be avoided until the process is complete.
It’s common for clients to “feel divorced” when they begin the divorce. Then they discover that divorce is a process, one that can go on for a very long time and feel never-ending. This is frustrating, but until that process is complete you are still legally married in the eyes of the state.


There are different types of paperwork that are involved in a divorce that can help you understand when a divorce is final.
The first is the “Summons and Petition.” The spouse who initiates the divorce has this document “served” on the other spouse. This means that someone is hired to physically walk up to your spouse and deliver the documents. They cannot be mailed. However, one could agree to accept service by signing an Admission of Service.
What’s in the Summons and Petition? The information includes general information like the names of both parties, the address of both parties, the names of all children, and information about employment, assets, and debts. It also includes a “prayer for relief,” which is a statement of how the petitioner would like the court to handle all of these issues.
There may be “Motion” papers. You may have a temporary hearing. This is a temporary order on the most basic issues of the divorce: child support, custody, spousal support and some of the property such as the house or the car. Remember, this is temporary: the final divorce decree could look very different.
In very contentious divorce there could be many more motions. An attorney can help you know when it’s important to file a motion and which motions are appropriate to file.
In cases resolved prior to at trial, there will be a Marital Settlement Agreement.
The final piece of paper is the “Final Divorce Decree.” This decree outlines how all of the issues will be dealt with moving forward. The decree is not valid until a judge signs it. Then the court must enter it into the record. At that point you are truly divorced.
The final divorce decree does not necessarily signal an end to legal battles, however. Some couples attempt to modify custody orders, parenting time orders, and support orders again and again. It may be many years before the dust settles.
This is a highly simplified outline of the process. Each of these documents could be many pages long and represents hours upon hours of legal work. This legal work has to be done carefully to ensure that you get the best possible results out of each and every document.
If you’re ready to file for divorce or if you’ve been served with a Summons and Petition then call one of our experienced family law attorneys. BGS has served the Minneapolis area for 75 years and we stand ready to help your divorce proceed as smoothly as possible.