26 Mar The Process of Divorce: An Overview
Divorce and other issues related to family law are stressful, and inherently life-changing. Seeking legal advice in these areas can be intimidating but is absolutely necessary. When meeting with a family law attorney for the first time, you will probably have a multitude of questions that you’d like to ask. One question that every family law attorney should be ready to answer is the simple but information-eliciting question, “what do I need to know about the process of divorce?” Below, we provide a “mile high” overview of the process.
The Divorce Process
Depending on the parties involved, the process of filing for divorce can be simple or very complex. Individuals who have been married for just a short time and have no joint assets or children are less time consuming divorces as opposed to a couple who has been married for years, with a handful of joint assets and kids. The more decisions to be made, the longer the process. The ability of the spouses to communicate, negotiate and compromise also greatly impacts the divorce.
Petition for Divorce
The first step in every divorce is gathering information, drafting and filing the petition for dissolution (divorce). The purpose of this petition is to let the court know that it has jurisdiction and venue to hear the matter and to give the Family Court a general idea of what the terms the petitioner’s request is. The petition states the reason for the divorce which varies from couple to couple. Many couples use “irreconcilable differences” as grounds for divorce. Fewer and fewer states are allowing for fault grounds like adultery or abandonment. Once the grounds for the divorce have been determined, one spouse is required to submit the petition to the court.
Serving the Paperwork (Service of Process)
The spouse that files for the divorce will also take responsibility for filing the proof of service process. This document shows proof that the copy of the petition for divorce was given and received by the other party. We’ve all seen movies where people are “served” with divorce paper in the most inconvenient and embarrassing of locations. This isn’t the typical situation. If both spouses are in agreement on the divorce, the easiest method of doing this is having the papers delivered to the other spouse’s attorney.
The spouse who is on the receiving end of the service of process that has to file a response. If he/she wants to, they can dispute the grounds for the divorce, which would be addressed in the response.
Discovery & Negotiations
Discovery is the process of gathering information from the opposing party that may be useful in equitable distribution, custody determination, support calculations, etc. Negotiations occur if both spouses are unable to come to an agreement on all issues. Very often, mediation is used to help both parties communicate and compromise until a resolution that everyone can agree to is found. Negotiations center on the division of property, assets, child custody, child support, and spousal support. If the negotiations are successful and both parties can come to an agreement, a marital settlement agreement will be drafted. This document be evaluated by the attorneys of both spouses before being signed. Once it is signed, it is submitted to the court for review by the judge to ensure that the arrangement is fair. The negotiations are one of the key determining factors in the length of a divorce. The more quickly spouses can compromise, the faster the divorce proceedings will take place.
If negotiations are unsuccessful and both spouses simply cannot agree on the terms of the divorce, the case will be taken to trial where a judge will be held responsible for the decision-making as to the issues that remain in dispute. While Divorces taken to trial are far more expensive, take significantly longer, they are sometimes necessary. Your attorney will help you weigh the pros and cons of taking the matter to trial.
The Final Order of Dissolution
When spouses negotiate their terms and settle outside of court, their attorneys draft the order of dissolution and submit it to the court. That agreement is commonly referred to as a Marital Settlement Agreement (MSA). If it is found to be reasonable, and agreed to by both parties, the judge will approve it. The order of dissolution signifies the end of the marriage and sets forth how the property, debt, custody, and support (if any) will be handled.
Don’t be overwhelmed!
It may seem as though the process of filing for divorce is very complex and difficult. Don’t be overwhelmed. A large percentage of cases are settled outside of court so that the case does not need to go to trial; this greatly simplifies the entire process. There are several steps involved in the divorce process, but nothing that isn’t possible to complete. Hiring a skilled, committed family law attorney can guarantee that you will have high-quality legal advice throughout the entire process. A great attorney will walk you through this process, ensuring that your best legal interests are met.
Now that you have a general idea of the process, feel free to browse our blog posts for more specific information or give us a call at +1.786.309.8588. The initial phone consultation is free of charge.