Divorce 101

Getting divorced is a large step in the lives of both spouses and their children, if any. Along with the stress of going through the divorce process you might feel as if you are lost in the whole process. Hiring an attorney can reduce some of the stress. An attorney can explain each step of the process to you, plus he is there if you have any questions about each step.
Depending on your situation, the divorce may take a few months or it may take a few years. The length of time depends on you and your spouse and how much you can agree on. If you fight tooth and nail for every little point, the process can take quite a while, especially when there are children and/or many assets and liabilities involved.

Knowing what the process involves and what is expected from you at each step helps reduce a lot of the stress that comes with filing for divorce. The first step is to contact an attorney to help you expedite the process by making sure all of the documentation required by the court is filed properly.

Once you have an initial consultation with and retain the attorney, you will get a packet of information and forms to fill out. Fill out all of the forms and provide all of the information requested, as it will be needed for the pleadings the attorney will file on your behalf. The pleadings include:

1. Petition for Dissolution of Marriage – this pleading contains everything you are suing your spouse for. It must include everything, even if you do not want it, as once it is filed, you cannot go back and add assets, liabilities or actions once it is filed.

2. The Petition must be served on your spouse. It will be filed along with a cover sheet and a summons. The court will sign off on the summons, then a process server or sheriff will serve the Petition on your spouse.

3. Once the Petition is served on your spouse, your spouse has 20 days to respond. Your spouse must file an Answer and a Counter Petition for Dissolution of Marriage. If your spouse or your spouse’s attorney does not respond within the requisite amount of time, your attorney can ask the court for a default hearing. If your spouse does not attend the default hearing, the court will, in most cases, grant the divorce and give you everything you asked for in the Petition.

If your spouse shows up for the default hearing, your spouse will have to explain to the court why she or he did not respond to the petition. The court will then rule whether the divorce will be granted immediately or order your spouse to submit an Answer and Counter Petition within a certain time frame.

4. If your spouse responds by filing and Answer and Counter Petition, you must file an Answer to Counter Petition within 20 days.

5. Once all of the initial pleadings have been filed, you will be required to bring in all of your financial documents and any deeds to assets (home, cars, boats). You will also be required to provide other financial information such as retirement account information, credit card statements and bank statements, among other “mandatory disclosure.”

6. Both parties will also be required to submit a Family Law Financial Affidavit. If children are involved, you will also have to file a Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act form stating the addresses of the minor children for the past three years and stating whether the children have been the subject another court order (usually for child support, visitation and custody) in this state or any other state.

7. You may be asked to attend mediation. If you and your spouse can come out of mediation with an agreement, you will have a short “uncontested” final hearing. If you cannot come to an agreement during mediation or at any other time, you will attend a final hearing. The length of the final hearing depends on the number of issues at odds. The final hearing will determine who gets what assets and liabilities, how much child support is paid, who has primary custody and who has secondary custody with visitation and alimony, if applicable.

Other things can come up during the process of the divorce. Your or your spouse may file additional motions for visitation, temporary child support and temporary alimony. If you have a partial agreement and one person is not holding up her end of the agreement, your attorney will also file motions to the court. These usually include motions for contempt or motions to compel a certain behavior previously order by the court, or in the case of your spouse not providing all financial documentation, a motion to compel discovery may be filed.

A divorce process that starts out seemingly simple can turn into a difficult process should your spouse decide she is not going to cooperate. Always seek out the expertise of an attorney when dealing with large life changes. The attorney will advise you in the best way possible when it is in your best interest or the best interest of the minor children.

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