Divorce is an unfortunate necessity in our society. People rarely get married fully knowing that they will eventually get divorced.
But it happens and when it does experienced counsel is necessary to ensure that the Court hears your side of the story so that your requests get the full consideration they deserve from the judge.
In a divorce everything can be decided by the parties, if they agree on all important issues. If they partially disagree then a divorcing couple can limit their expense by agreeing to present only the disputed matters to the Court. Sometimes, however, nothing is agreed, often because the other party is acting in bad faith (or is just crazy) and then it is necessary to fully prepare for your hearing on the merits (trial) and present every issue to the judge to get your fair share of what you worked for and built during the marriage.
Most important of all is the fate of your children. If there is no agreement the judge can decide pretty much every important aspect of their young lives by deciding which parent is a better fit to guide and raise the children and can even impose rules upon the parties. If there is a disagreement about the children (or anything related to the children) be prepared by engaging highly experienced domestic counsel.
The Process in General
First, you decide that you would rather be divorced than continue the marriage. Then you have to file a petition to the appropriate court asking for a divorce (this is where lots of people find a lawyer).
In the petition you ask the judge to grant the divorce, possibly change a name, decide who gets custody of the children of the marriage, and how to divide the stuff and the debts accumulated during the marriage. That all sounds pretty easy, right?
Wrong. Some of this stuff is easy, even automatic, the granting of the divorce itself and the name change of the wife to her former name, for example. Everything else is also easy if the husband and wife agree to it all. Somebody (usually a lawyer) drafts up a divorce decree and both parties sign it. One party appears before the judge and says, "yes, I want a divorce", answers a few other easy questions and it's all done.
This isn't usual, though. Most people are getting a divorce because they don't agree on everything.
They don't agree on property division. They both want the house, or whatever. They can't agree on how to split the retirement up.
They don't agree on debt division. Each wants the other to pay for everything, since it's their fault.
Most of all though, they don't agree on custody. Often, each wants sole custody of the children and lots don't even want to let their soon-to-be ex- to even see the kids.
Anyway, assuming there is a lack of agreement on the basic issues of the divorce, the party filing the petition (the Petitioner) also files an application for a temporary order (TO). The responding party (the Respondent) is, of course, hiring their own lawyer to file responses to the petition and the application.
Pretty soon, but not usually soon enough, a hearing is held on the application for temporary orders and the judge enters an order that will govern the relations between husband and wife until the divorce is granted. The judge will decide on the basis of a 10 or 20 minute hearing (usually, but I've had them go from 9am to 2pm without a break before) who gets custody, who pays child support, who lives in the house, who gets what car, and who pays which bills (including attorney's fees), provided that either the Petitioner or Respondent asks about these things, and other things.
Anyway, after that, the Parties start sending each other questions and requests for information, documents, etc. (known as "Discovery") and sometimes some arguments come up over what exactly must be revealed. Some people try to hide stuff and some lawyers or parties are obstreperous (this is a fancy lawyer word for irritatingly uncooperative). All this also gets resolved in court with arguments and hearings.
At some point several months (at the bare minimum) after the temporary orders hearing is the trial. At the trial (otherwise known as the "hearing on the merits") the judge is going to listen to testimony and examine exhibits to decide any issues the parties couldn't agree on (lots of things usually get settled before trial) and issue an oral decree of divorce (a divorce is effective when the judge pronounces it in court, but all the attached issues aren't really settled until it's in writing and signed by the judge). Then one of the lawyers will draft a decree that's supposed to reflect the judge's ruling (who has custody of the kids, who gets the house, etc.). Sometimes the parties don't agree on what the judge said, so they won't approve the decree. More argument at a hearing (one party or the other files a Motion to Settle Journal Entry). The judge usually resolves that stuff pretty quickly and the decree is finally signed and filed.
That's more or less the process, except that if somebody wants to change something later they will file a Motion to Modify, but that's another subject.