While divorce looks different for every client – some saddened, some shocked, some happy to move on – a common emotion surrounding divorce is nervousness. For many, divorce may be the first time a person has prolonged involvement with the Court system. Understanding the Court System’s divorce process can help lessen anxiety and fear surrounding the divorce process.
Initiation. The first step in any divorce proceeding is the Complaint for Divorce. The Complaint essentially informs the Court of the general facts of your case and is the formal notice to the Court and your spouse that you are seeking a divorce. Your spouse will then have the chance to file an “Answer” to your Complaint.
Financial Paperwork. Generally, both parties to the case will individually file a “Case Information Statement”, which summarizes income and spending of the parties. It will also list any assets or debts that you have. This gives the Court an overview of your financial situation.
Litigation – or not. Along the way, motion practice may be needed. A motion is a written request for some form of relief from the Court while the divorce is pending. The subject of these requests are broad, and can range from child support, to temporary spousal support, to sole use of the marital home, to selling a marital asset before the divorce is finalized. The specifics of your divorce case will dictate if motions are necessary in shaping the best possible outcome for you in the divorce.
Mediation and Settlement Steps: The time in between initiation of the case and the ultimate resolution can look vastly different for every couple. In some cases, clients may go to mediation with a neutral, trained party and reach a resolution together with some ease. There are several major events for unsettled cases at this stage. One is an “Early Settlement Panel” where trained divorce attorneys offer insight into settling your case. If the case still does not resolve, the Court may next send the parties to an “Intensive Settlement Conference” where the couple and their attorneys will discuss settling the agreement. The goal of these events is for the parties to agree to some form of “Marital Settlement Agreement”, which is a document signed by both parties, consenting to the terms of their divorce and division of all of their assets.
Resolution. Divorce can happen through an Agreement – described above – or through trial: divorcing after court proceedings where the Judge reaches the ultimate decision on your case. If you are able to agree to the divorce terms, the Court may not even need to hold a hearing, and instead may grant you a “divorce on the papers.” Otherwise, the Court may hold an Uncontested Divorce hearing to finalize the divorce process. If the case remains unsettled, the Court will assign trial dates and order a date for “pre-trial submissions”, including things like evidence binders and briefs addressing the issues for trial. The case will eventually proceed to trial before the matrimonial Judge who has been handling your case.
Every litigant can benefit from an attorney’s representation, especially in divorce cases. An experienced and compassionate attorney can walk you through your divorce from start to finish, offering support through this overwhelming time. If you are considering initiating the divorce process, or have already done so and want help, reach out to us for further information.