Jurisdiction over a divorce case is usually determined by residency. That is, a divorcing spouse is required to bring the divorce action in the state where she or he maintains a permanent home. States are obligated to acknowledge a divorce obtained in another state. This rule is from the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which requires states to recognize the valid laws and court orders of other states. Under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, a state must make divorce available to everyone. If a party seeking divorce cannot afford the court expenses, filing fees, and costs attached to the serving or publication of legal papers, the party may file for divorce free of charge. Typically, in a divorce proceeding or dissolution action the parties are referred to as the “petitioner,” and the “respondent.” The petitioner is the spouse who initiates the dissolution proceeding. The other spouse is the respondent. A dissolution action begins with one spouse filing a document known as a petition or complaint. The other spouse must then be served with these papers and has a specific time frame in which to respond. The ultimate goal of any dissolution action is to obtain a decree or judgment. The decree will resolve every issue in the case, including child support and visitation, division of assets and debts, and spousal support.
There are basically three methods for securing a divorce decree. If the respondent is properly served, but never files a response, the petitioner can request that the court order the divorce by default. Also, the couple may agree on all the issues in the case and obtain a decree by settlement, stipulation, or agreement. If the parties cannot agree, the case can be decided by a judge after a trial.