Filing for Divorce : Part Two
Summons and Petition
The first step in is filing a Summons and Petition in court. You can get these forms from the local courthouse. The price for filing these papers varies from state-to-state, but the cost is usually under $100.
The Summons and Petition is a three-part form. The Summons announces that divorce papers have been filed in court. The Petition has two parts. The first part identifies the individuals involved such as the divorcing couple and any children they have. The second part lists what the initiating spouse (the one starting the divorce) wants from the divorce, such as child custody, and the amount of child support and alimony.
After the forms have been filled out and filed, the next step is to serve the papers upon your spouse, also called the opposing spouse. In most states the papers must be personally delivered and you and your children cannot serve them. An adult not involved in the case must serve the papers.
Answers and Counter Petition
Once served, the opposing spouse now has to respond in writing to the Summons and Petition. In most states the spouse has 30 days to do this. The Answer is submitted into court and includes a list of the opposing spouse’s wants in terms of alimony, custody and other issues. In many cases the requirement to submit the Answer is waived so the couple doesn’t have to pay an additional filing fee.
Possible Next Steps
If you and your spouse are unable to reach an agreement with the help of your attorneys, either of you may request a temporary hearing with a judge. The hearing can be used to resolve any number of issues such as custody, alimony, and who will live in the marital home. These temporary orders can be changed at any time during the divorce proceedings with another hearing.
There are other situations that may develop during the early stages of a divorce depending on which state you live in. Some courts require a divorcing couple to meet with a mediator, a trained professional who can help resolve disputes. Other courts require parenting classes so a couple can help their children during a divorce. In a few states even children of a certain age are required to take classes to deal with their parents’ divorce.
Meeting with the Judge
This part of the process has many different names but basically it is a required hearing with the judge who will be handling your divorce. Both spouses are present at this hearing as are the lawyers. The purpose of the meeting is to discuss the various aspects of the case. If you and your spouse have reached an agreement, this hearing is not necessary. But if you both are still unable to work together to arrive at a resolution, it is then assumed that the divorce will go to trial and the next stages are in preparation for the trial.
Just as in the criminal trials you see on television, the discovery phase is an investigation into many areas of your current and past life including finances, relationships and health. Discovery takes many forms. There are written questions called interrogatories that have to be answered in writing. There are requests for documents that have to be submitted within 30 days. There are release forms that give a third-party permission to release personal documents such as medical records or bank statements. Another form of discovery is a deposition in which people involved in the case have to give evidence under oath. A subpoena is usually issued. If you or your spouse do not supply requested documents or fail to show up for a deposition, it can cause severe problems. It is always best to comply with court orders.
Settlement or Pretrial Conference
At this hearing the Judge meets with the lawyers and/or the spouses to determine which unresolved issues will be discussed during the trial. At this hearing the Judge offers recommendations to resolve the disputes. Any issues that cannot be agreed upon are held over for the trial.
Marital Settlement Agreement
When you and your spouse finally agree on all the issues such as custody and support, you both sign a piece of paper that details your rights and everything you have agreed to. This paper is usually called a Marital Settlement Agreement. This agreement is signed in front of a notary public. The signing of this document signifies the end of a divorce. The document can be signed at any stage of a divorce once the spouses agree on terms. This signing can occur right up to the time of the trial. If this happens, the trial is no longer necessary.
The trial is the last step for couples who cannot reach an agreement. If you and your spouse cannot decide on how to resolve the issues, the court will decide for you. Some states only have a bench trial which means the judge decides the outcome of your divorce. Other states have a trial by jury. The trial is very similar to the ones on TV with testimonies under oath, witnesses and cross-examination.
Final Judgment and Divorce Decree
At the end of a trial, after all the issues have been decided by a judge or jury, there is the final judgment of the court. This final order officially ends the marriage. The judgment describes in detail all aspects of the divorce case which were decided by the court. In some states the final order is prepared by one of the lawyers. You are divorced when the judge signs and dates the divorce decree, a piece of paper that confirms the judgment.
If you or your spouse is unhappy with the results of the trial, either of you have the right to file an appeal. The timelines for starting an appeal are short so you must act quickly. If you win the appeal there may be changes made to the divorce in your favor.
Divorce is a complicated process with several stages that you may have to go through. The best thing you and your spouse can do to expedite the divorce is to communicate and work together. This cooperation leads to a shorter and cheaper divorce. The sooner your divorce is finalized the sooner you can enjoy the next phase of your life.