The Divorce Process

DIVORCE PROCESS

1. Complaint

A divorce begins with the filing of the complaint with the court.  This notifies the court and your spouse, when served, that you want to end the marriage.

2. Answer

After the Complaint is served, the opposing spouse may be required to file an Answer. If you are required to file an answer, you have thirty (30) days from when you were served with the complaint to file your answer.

3. Temporary Orders

Temporary orders set the rules you must follow while the divorce case is pending.  Temporary orders can address temporary custody, visitation and child support, who stays in the house until the divorce is heard on its merits, and who pays certain expenses and can also restrain inappropriate conduct.  You and your spouse can enter into agreed temporary orders.  It is in your and your spouse’s best interests to agree upon reasonable temporary arrangements.  By reaching a temporary agreement, you defray your legal fees and defray the stress and bad feelings resulting from temporary hearings.  However, if you and your spouse are unable to reach a temporary agreement, either party can request a temporary hearing before the Judge for him to determine the issues which need to be addressed on a temporary basis.

4. Discovery

Each spouse is entitled to information from the other spouse about the case, and you obtain this information through the process known as discovery. There are several different discovery methods. Interrogatories are written questions that require a formal, written response to each question.  Requests for Production of Documents require a party to produce certain documents and things which are responsive to each request.  Requests for Admissions require a party to either admit or deny each question.  A deposition usually takes place at an attorney’s office.  In a deposition, the spouse, a spouse’s expert witness or witnesses to a case will be asked questions by both your attorney and your spouse’s attorney and must answer these questions under oath and with a court reporter recording what is being said.

5. Settlements

Most lawyers and judges agree it is best to resolve a case by agreement.  By reaching an agreement, you know exactly what the outcome of the case will be.  Without an agreement, the judge decides the outcome, and you can come out better than you would have by agreement or much worse than you would have by agreement.  Further, compromising to reach a settlement, often results in the parties being able to interact more civilly once the divorce is final which is extremely important in cases in which children are involved.

Whether to agree to a settlement proposal or not is your decision to make.  Your attorney can advise you of the pros and cons and legal ramifications of a settlement proposal and may recommend that you accept or reject a particular settlement proposal; however, a decision to settle is yours to make. Your attorney cannot and will not make that decision for you.

If a settlement is reached, you and your spouse will enter into a property settlement agreement which outlines your agreement.  However, you must wait until the divorce decree is entered and filed with the court before your divorce is final.

6. Trial

If you and your spouse cannot agree on a settlement, the case will go to trial. At trial, both you and your spouse will tell your story to the judge through your testimony, testimony of your witnesses and exhibits, such as documents, pictures and recordings.  Both your attorney and your spouse’s attorney will question everyone who takes the witness stand.

Trial can be expensive and unpleasant. Trials are also risky; every case is different and, therefore, no one can predict the outcome of a trial.  However, when you and your spouse are unable to reach a settlement agreement, a trial is necessary.  At the conclusion of the trial, the judge will give his decision which becomes the divorce decree.

However, either party may elect to appeal the decision of the judge.  An appeal adds even more time and expense to the divorce proceeding.

7. After the Divorce

a) Modification

Certain provisions of a decree of divorce, whether based upon an agreement by the parties or by the judge’s ruling at trial can be modified at a later date.  Typically, child custody, child support amounts and visitation can be modified.  However, typically divisions of property and debt are not modifiable.

b) Enforcement

If you or your spouse fail to obey a court order, the court may hold the disobedient spouse in contempt and may put the person in jail, impose a fine, or impose another punishment to make that person obey the order.  In addition, the person found to be in contempt is typically required to pay the innocent party’s attorney fees and costs incurred in having to bring the contempt action.