Divorce, also called dissolution of marriage, varies a lot depending on the situation of the couple and the state where the process takes place. Some couples smoothly agree on it and some don’t; some have children to care for, and property or debt to consider. Different states also have specific laws and rules pertaining to divorce.
In general, these are the steps and paperwork involved in the divorce process:
Filing Of Divorce Petition
This is the first step in divorce and one of the spouses will have to do this even if they both agree to end their marriage. The spouse files a Petition (or in some states, a Complaint or a Summons) with the court. The Petition is a document stating the petitioner’s desire to end the marriage, the grounds for divorce, and what the petitioner is asking for (such as child custody, child support, and property division).
Service Of Process
The petition has to be served – that is, presented – to the other spouse, who is now the respondent. This is to notify the respondent that the petition for divorce has been filed with the court. Sometimes, this can get troublesome and will require a professional process server. Also, some state laws prohibit the petitioner from serving the papers.
Once the spouse is served, there has to be a document that becomes a proof of service. Depending on the law, it can be the respondent-signed acknowledgment that he/she has received the papers, or it can be a server-signed document. These papers are filed with the court.
Either spouse can ask the court for temporary orders, also known as pendente lite orders. These set will set the rules during the proceeding until a full court hearing. A temporary order, for example, will dictate who is responsible for the couple’s children, who pays certain bills, or if a certain party has to be restrained. For instance, if a housewife files for divorce, she may ask for a temporary child support order so the husband will still support the kids during the proceeding.
It is best that temporary orders are requested as soon as possible. The petitioner can file it together with the divorce petition; the respondent can do likewise as soon as he/she is served.
After the respondent is served, he/she will have to file a response. In this set of papers, the respondent can dispute the contents of the petition, such the facts used as grounds for the divorce. Any disagreement on custody, property division, and the like should also be included in the response.
In most states, there is a time limit (usually 30 days) within which the respondent can file the response – otherwise, the right to respond is lost and the court may give the other spouse everything demanded in the petition.
Discovery is the process in which the spouses exchange information pertinent to their marriage and divorce. These can include their property ownership, debt, income, and the like. In common practice, parties in a divorce, including their attorneys, exchange information informally to save time and money. In other cases, it can follow rigid formal procedures, such as disclosures, interrogatories, and depositions.
If the divorce is uncontested, the spouses will only have to complete a few more forms after this before the divorce is final. But if there are disagreements, the parties and their lawyers will use the information gathered in discovery to take their settlement positions.
Negotiating A Settlement
This is where the parties and their attorneys propose and discuss a settlement regarding matters like child custody and visitation, property division, and spousal support. The court may set settlement conferences for both parties to negotiate with the help of a judge. Lawyers and judges mostly agree that arriving at a settlement through negotiation is ideal, because it is less time-consuming, less expensive, and less stressful than going to trial.
If both spouses agree to a settlement, there are a few more legal procedures to follow to turn the agreement into a judgment. The divorce lawyers should handle the completion of these processes.
If the spouses cannot settle the case, the process will have to go to trial. Here, each party will tell their story to a judge through testimonies and relevant documents (called exhibits). Trials are considered costly and time-consuming, and they can lead to results that are unpredictable for the parties involved. But many times, it is the only way for the divorce to be finalized.
Throughout all these steps, the role of a divorce attorney is crucial. It is definitely wise for a person going through a divorce to get a lawyer who is skilled, reliable, and sympathetic throughout the process.