So I Filed For Divorce, Now What?
Divorce Is Never Easy
People generally do not file for divorce on a whim. The decision to permanently dissolve a marriage usually comes after long deliberation or after an act so heinous that reconciliation is impossible. And for all the effort, love and time put into making a marriage work, it seems oddly too simple to file a piece of paper with the court declaring that you no longer want to be married. Many people think that with a few pages of papers containing answers about assets and children or a simple signature from the other person a divorce is what you can get. However, there is much more to dissolution than just filing the paperwork. The first thing you need to know is that the divorce process is not automatic therefore the legal process towards dissolution can be confusing and daunting.
This article is intended to give a brief overview of the basic steps needed to complete a dissolution to ensure that more people understand divorce is a process that, once started, should be completed either to judgment or by closing the case.
The Initial Papers.
Filing for divorce initiates a legal process. The goal of the dissolution petition is to start the process to obtain a final judgment so that two people will no longer be married, in other words so Husband and Wife can be returned to the status of single. The initial paperwork to file for dissolution is the Summons and Petition for Dissolution. There may be other documents that are needed initially depending on your circumstances such as whether you have children from the marriage.
A summons is a legal document that you serve on the opposing party that says there is a court action filed against him or her and that the Court has jurisdiction to hear the case. Along with the Summons, you serve the Petition on your spouse. The Petition tells the Court and your spouse that you want a divorce and also informs the Court the nature of the party’s assets, whether children are involved and what orders the Petitioner may seek in the process.
The Discovery Process
After the initial paperwork is served on the opposing spouse they have thirty days to respond. If they do not respond, then a default judgment can be entered after you take some affirmative steps to complete the judgment. But this happens rarely and in most cases a response is filed. The next step is the exchange of documents and information. In California, there are preliminary and final disclosures that must be made by both parties. These disclosures are meant to exchange financial information about the respective party’s assets, income and liabilities in order to assist the court in allotting these items in a final judgment. These disclosures are mandatory and a judgment cannot be rendered unless they are completed.
In addition to the mandatory disclosures, each party may also serve discovery in order to ascertain information regarding any matter that is relevant to the dissolution action. While discovery is not used in every dissolution action, it is a good way to seek out information regarding custody, visitation and other items not required to be disclosed in the mandatory disclosures.
The Dissolution process can take a long time. While it is ongoing there may be issues that need to be resolved before a judgment is rendered. These issues include spousal support, child custody and visitation and financial matters that must be resolved quickly. In order to resolve these issues before judgment, a party must file a motion with the Court seeking a temporary resolution.
For example, if one spouse makes a lot of money and the other spouse has no income, it would be inherently unfair to allow that income making spouse to live the same lifestyle while separated while the non income making spouse has no means to support him or herself. Since it could take over a year to obtain a judgment setting out spousal support, the Court is empowered to make a temporary order of spousal support to allow the non income making spouse the ability to provide for him or herself. Others issues involving child custody and visitation can also resolved on a temporary basis. Most temporary orders pertain to use and possession of the family residence, support orders, and custody issues.
Trial and Judgment
After discovery is completed the case is then set for trial. As a part of trial, the parties are compelled to participate in a mandatory settlement conference. The MSC is designed to have the parties come to a settlement before trial to reduce the expenses associated with a long drawn out trail. However, if there are any issues the parties cannot reach a settlement on, those issues are then tried. Each party is allowed to put on evidence to support their case and the party’s argue what the Court should order is regards to a wide range of issues including spousal and child support, custody and visitation, assets, and others issues regarding the marriage.
Once the trial is over the Judge then enters a Judgment of dissolution that declares that the Parties are legally divorced. The Judgment will also set forth what the child custody and visitation will be, what spousal support will be paid, and what the distribution of community property and liabilities will be. While some issues can be modified post-judgment like child support and child custody, the Judgment issued by the Court tends to be the final word on most issues.
Filing for divorce is never an easy process. Generally great emotion and turmoil is involved when the decision to leave a spouse is made. But if filing for a divorce is the right choice it is important to know what is involved and how the legal process works to untangle a marriage. It is important to understand the process and having a lawyer can make the process a lot less daunting.
Dena Bez is a licensed California Attorney whose practice focuses on family law including divorce, custody disputes, domestic partnership issues and estate planning.
This Article is made available for educational purposes only as well as to give you general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. By using the article or the information contained in the article you understand that there is no attorney client relationship between you and the publisher. Any information in the article should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.