How long will my case take? This process is confusing. Why am I doing all of this work up front? Common questions I hear from family law clients and rightly so. Dissolving a marriage does sometimes take longer than all of us would like. The process does feel confusing because so many things are happening at once and need to happen at once. Doing work up front means preparation for settlement or trial and swifter preparation for settlement or trial means drafting and entering a judgment more quickly. To help my visual learners out there, I prepared a decision tree of sorts to show the steps in a divorce case. Let’s discuss them.
First, I like to engage my clients in some pre-divorce planning. Although I may not have all of the financial information, I do like clients to have an idea of child and spousal support amounts. I like for them to have their tax returns at our initial consultation and then, as we progress in the case, have their financial documents from their various institutions available. The start of the case is also the time to set up support networks.
Next, we complete the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage, file it and serve it. If the other spouse has completed this step already, then we complete and file the Response. Simultaneously with this step, we discuss whether the case needs a forensic accountant, a private investigator or toxicology expert. The client may also need to file for bankruptcy, have a criminal matter with the other spouse pending, need advice from a business attorney or estate planning attorney or, if there is intellectual property involved in the divorce, then we will need an intellectual property attorney; all of these different attorneys may work with me on the case simultaneously.
Once the Petition and Response are dealt with and we have commenced assembling the appropriate team of experts and other attorneys, we then may need to file a motion for support or child custody or other interim remedy. Basically, any family law remedy that a client needs before a judgment is entered and the marriage is completely dissolved, we will need to seek on a temporary basis either right away or at some point. While we are preparing paperwork for a hearing, we will commence the discovery process and also complete the disclosure documents; if experts or other attorneys are involved in the case, then they may weigh in on these issues.
With the hearings set, discovery conducted and disclosure documents completed we may resolve some or all of the issues in the case. When this is done, I draft up and the parties sign a Stipulation and Order and we submit it to the Court. If all issues are resolved, then either myself or the other attorney can draft a Judgment memorializing this agreement, send it to the Court and once the Court enters the Judgment then the divorce is finalized.
If the parties cannot reach a resolution of issues on some or all of the issues in the case, then it proceeds to trial. Trial can be one day, two days, a few weeks, a month and possibly even a year depending on the complexity of the issues involved and the Court’s calendar. For example, some parties maybe had a trial start at the end of 2019, had it continued into the summer and now with the pandemic their next trial date may not be until the start of 2021. Trial dates may not be consecutive as the public Court’s are very busy and may not have time.
These steps seem like a lot and probably feel overwhelming, but what must be kept in mind is that these steps are just your married life presented in an organized fashion. Either you know this information or the other spouse does and it is just a matter of getting the information, putting it together, agreeing on terms, and then finalizing into a Judgment.
Following with the steps involved, I often get questions of how many Court hearings will take place? And, what will happen if the other spouse retains an attorney or does not? To answer these questions, here are some common scenarios that I see in my law practice:
• I represent husband/wife and the other spouse is not represented - we resolve all issues without court hearings and a judgment is drafted and sent to the Court.
• I represent husband/wife and the other spouse is represented as well – we resolve all issues without court hearings and a judgment is drafted and sent to the Court.
• I represent husband/wife and the other spouse is represented as well – we have one or two hearings to resolve custody, support, property division and attorney fee issues and then we reach a settlement and a judgment is drafted and sent to the Court.
• I represent husband/wife and the other spouse is represented as well – we are able to resolve some issues or all issues with the assistance of a private mediator such as a retired Judge. A judgment is drafted and sent to the Court.
• I represent husband/wife and the other spouse is represented as well – we are able to resolve some issues, but there must be a trial on others. A judgment must be drafted and sent to the Court.
• I represent husband/wife and the other spouse is represented as well – we are not able to resolve any issues, and there must be a trial on all issues. A judgment must be drafted and sent to the Court.
• The majority of cases are resolved within 1.5 years. If they take longer, it is because the issues in the case are complex and/or there are other issues including, but not limited to, mental illness, retaliation, or the like.
This material is provided for educational purposes only. Providing this information does not establish an attorney/client relationship. None of the information contained in this presentation should be acted upon without first consulting with an attorney. Should you have questions about the content of this presentation, please arrange to discuss via a consultation.