Introduction to Basics of Divorce Proceedings
By: Alescia Davies
Starting the divorce process can seem daunting. Hiring experienced legal counsel can save you time and stress during a difficult stage of your life and helps you achieve the end result you desire.
Before you start. Consulting with an attorney. First of all, if you’re reading this we know you’ve done some research online. The next step then is to set up a consultation with an experienced attorney to discuss the issues central to your specific family situation. We will explain how the process moves through the court, which could vary depending on your issues. After the consultation, you may choose to consider your next step, or you may retain one of our attorneys to help you proceed.
Retaining an attorney: Attorneys are required to have written engagement agreements with all clients. Your attorney will review the engagement agreement and explain how you are billed, the required retainer and the expectations of the client and attorney.
Starting the Process: The first step in most cases is filing a Petition for Dissolution. If your spouse has already filed a Petition then your attorney will file a Response to that Petition. A Petition lays out the issues for the case, including property distribution, custody and parenting time, and spousal support. The Responding party has 30 days after being served with the Petition to file their Response to the Dissolution, either agreeing with some or all of the points in the Petition, or raising counterclaims.
After Filing the Petition and the Response: During the beginning phase of the divorce process, your attorney will ask that you provide some basic documents for their review, such as tax returns, paystubs, credit card statements, and banking information. Our office will also ask that you fill out some questionnaires with your basic contact information, but also more detailed questions about the issues that typically come up in divorces. Your attorney will help explain the best strategies for negotiation and will discuss the reasonable terms for settlement specific to your case.During this part of the process the parties will exchange information and may enter into negotiation and try to resolve the case. If the parties are able to come to a mutual agreement, one of the attorneys can draft a final divorce document called a Judgment of Dissolution, which will lay out the terms of the agreement for both parties to sign. A divorce can be settled without ever appearing in court, which many parties prefer. In Washington County, prior to COVID-19, cases were set for trial within 3-6 months from the initial filing. It’s unclear whether that timeline will be extended due to the pandemic, which makes having an attorney help negotiate your case prior to trial even more important.
Time Sensitive Issues: If you have an issue that needs to be addressed quickly, such as emergency custody requests or the need for exclusive use of the marital home due to a toxic living environment. Your attorney can file various motions to bring these issues to the court’s attention quickly, and prior to trial.
When Negotiations fail: If you cannot resolve the case through negotiation with your spouse then then the matter will go to trial. where a Judge will hear both sides and makes a final decision. If your spouse did not make a reasonable attempt to settle the case, or acted in bath faith in some way, your attorney can ask the court to assess your legal fees and fines against your spouse.
After Settlement or Trial: Whether the case is resolved by settlement or after a trial, a final judgement will be entered that sets forth the terms of the divorce. Property, custody, parenting time, and other financial matters are all resolved. Attorney fees may also be awarded. If a party does not comply with that judgement, then you may enforce the terms by filing a subsequent motions with the Court. The type of enforcement action depends on the alleged violation.