Many people going through the process of a divorce feel lost. The end of the tunnel seems nowhere in sight because it feels as if they are walking blindfolded through a complicated and mysterious maze. These feelings are largely due to a lack of understanding of the various stages involved in the divorce process, especially since many of the stages tend to overlap with each other. Understanding which stage of the divorce you are in and where you are headed will go a long way in giving you confidence that your case is being steered in the right direction.
These Are the Various Stages of a Typical Divorce
The Initial Paperwork:
At the very earliest stage of the divorce process there is a significant amount of paperwork that must be completed and served on the other side. For example, the Summons and Petition must be served on the Respondent and the Respondent must serve his or her Response on the Petitioner within 30 days of being served. Also, both parties are required to prepare a Preliminary Declaration of Disclosure within 60 days of when the case began. It is important to understand that the Preliminary Declaration of Disclosure requirement is mandatory and the divorce will not be completed until this requirement is satisfied.
Obtaining Temporary Orders:
At any time after the case begins, up until the case proceeds to trial, the parties may file motions for the purpose of obtaining temporary orders, such as orders pertaining to child custody, child support, spousal support, exclusive use of the family residence, and attorney's fees. It is important to understand that these are only temporary orders and that most of them will be modified during the later stages of the proceedings.
Serving and Responding to Discovery:
In order for a party to fully understand his or her rights and responsibilities pertaining to the marital assets and other important issues involved in the case, it is often necessary to engage in some form of Discovery before engaging in settlement proceedings or going to trial.The most common type of Discovery methods used during a divorce are serving Form Interrogatories and a Demand for Production of Documents on the other party, issuing subpoenas, and taking depositions. Since all cases are different there is no “one size fits all” type of discovery that should be employed in a given case. One thing that is standard for all cases, however, is that a party should not make a request to go to trial until all of his or her discovery has been completed. After all, it makes no sense to proceed with the trial unless all of the evidence has been acquired.
Voluntary Settlement Conferences:
Participating in a voluntary settlement conference for most people is highly advisable. Normally, parties participate in a voluntary settlement conference long before going to trial. Voluntary settlement conferences can be held at either attorney's office and can be an opportunity to settle the entire case or only portions of it. Sometimes people employ the services of a retired judge to assist in the settlement discussions.
Mandatory Settlement Conferences:
When the parties are unable to settle the case informally the court will require them to participate in a mandatory settlement conference with either a volunteer attorney or a neutral judge. These conferences are normally held at the courthouse and another good opportunity to settle the case to avoid trial.
Sometimes the only way to get to the finish line of a divorce requires the parties to take the matter to trial at which time a judge will determine the outcome of the various issues. Divorce trials are evidentiary hearings and can take several days.
Preparation of the Judgment of Dissolution:
In order to finalize the divorce proceedings, a judgment of dissolution must be prepared, regardless of whether the case settles or a judge decides all the issues. The process of preparing a Judgement of Dissolution may be time consuming depending on the complexity of the case and because the process also requires input from both attorneys, as the Judgment must conform to either the agreement between the parties or the orders of the court. Once the Judgment has been signed and entered by the court, the parties are officially divorced.
Post Judgment Work:
Finally, there is some post judgment work that needs to be completed in some cases, such as the transfer of deed and the preparation of the domestic relations orders for retirement plans.
In conclusion, not all of the above stages pertain to every case and the path to the finish line will differ from case to case. Nevertheless, knowing which stage you are in and where the case is likely headed will allow you to make better decisions concerning the issues at hand.