The Divorce Process
Many people find the divorce process overwhelming and down-right stressful. Navigating the legal system, wondering who to hire as an attorney, and what will happen to the children are common issues in the beginning. The stress of filing for divorce can be minimized with proper representation and guidance. In most cases, issues can be resolved prior to reaching trial. Some couples choose to use the services of a mediator who can help both parties come to mutual agreement. Each case is unique in its issues, but each case generally follows this process:
With the help of a good mediator, cases can be resolved without involving the courts in the decision making. Interim support and parenting plans can be established, followed by an overall settlement agreement. For most people, mediation can be a quicker and less costly way to settle issues..
The Complaint For Divorce
If a couples’ issues cannot be resolved, one party (the plaintiff) files for divorce in court. A summons is issued and the other party (the defendant) must be served with the Complaint for Divorce. In many cases, the defendant will simply sign the summons in front of a notary. Otherwise, a constable or sheriff will deliver a copy of the Complaint and summons to the defendant.
The Defendant has 20 days to respond to the complaint. Once this response is received, the case enters the pretrial period in which each party is given the opportunity to request documents and ask questions of the other side. At this point the couple can still resolve their differences without using the court system.
Each side gathers all necessary documents such as financial records. Each spouse has the right to review the other spouses information. Custody and parenting issues are also explored here. Depositions or interrogatories may occur. Real estate and businesses are appraised.
At this point attorneys may submit requests for interim rulings to the judge. Support and parenting plans are often the subjects of motions for temporary orders. Sometimes there are motions to request for information being withheld.
If children are involved, the court can appoint a GAL, or Guardian Ad Litem to investigate (and sometimes make recommendations) concerning the best parenting arrangement for the family. The GAL will conduct interviews with the parties, the children and collateral sources of information such as pediatricians and teachers.
4 Way Meeting and Pretrial Conference
Prior to the Pretrial Conference, the parties and counsel are required to meet and discuss the issues. Sometimes partial agreements can be reached—for example, the parties agree on parenting and support arrangements but do not agree on how to divide the assets. The four way meeting helps to narrow the issues. Each party files a pretrial memo with the judge which outlines what issues remain unresolved and what the party wants to happen and why. The judge reads the memos and conducts an informal hearing in which he/she may offer guidance about how to settle the disputed items. Most cases settle at this point. The judge hearing the pretrial conference is generally the same one who will hear the trial. If the judge has indicated his/her position on an issue, it is not likely to change.
Most cases do not even make it this far. Usually couples can resolve their issues without involving a judge. If a trial is necessary, each side presents their case and evidence before a judge. The judge will then review the case and issue a decision.