Divorces can be either contested or uncontested. A contested divorce is one in which the parties cannot agree, and the court is needed to decide issues such as custody, child support, maintenance and division of property.
A contested divorce begins with the plaintiff filing a summons and complaint and having a copy served on the defendant. The defendant then files an answer. After these documents are served, either side can ask to court to hold a preliminary conference. At the conference, both sides must be present, together with their attorneys. The court will enter a preliminary conference order, which sets forth a schedule for the parties to exchange financial documents and information.
After compliance with the preliminary conference order, the plaintiff will file a form called a note of issue, which states that the case is ready for trial. The court will hold a pre-trial conference and then schedule a trial date.
The trial takes place without a jury. After the trial is over, the Judge will issue a written decision. That decision is then incorporated into a judgment of divorce.
Most cases do not go all the way to trial. A settlement is possible at any time during the process, but frequently occurs just prior to trial.