Spouses contemplating divorce are often overwhelmed by the prospect of going through what could become a stressful and difficult process. Not understanding the steps of the divorce case only worsens the stress. Today's blog post will summarize the basic steps of a contested divorce, with the hope that understaning the process a little better will decrease the stress level.
Step 1: Hiring a competent attorney. It is critical that an experienced family law attorney be retained to provide expert guidance and agressively protect your rights.
Step 2: Filing suit. The attorney will prepare a divorce petition, which is the request for divorce. Along with the petition, the attorney may request that the Judge sign a Temporary Restraining Order, which has the immediate effect of prohibiting the other party from harmful and irrational acts, such as hiding money or bad-mouthing the other parent in the presence of the children. Copies of these documents are then served on the other party, along with a citation and precept. The service of these documents starts the clock ticking toward the opposing party's deadline to respond, and notifies the opposing party of the first hearing.
Step 3: Gathering documents. Your attorney will ask that you provide basic income and tax documents, asset list, chronology of important events and contact information for witnesses.
Step 4: Preparing for and attending the first hearing. This hearing is known as a "temporary orders hearing" and is generally held within 2 to 4 weeks after filing suit. Your attorney will want to meet with you to prepare for your testimony, and will also want to talk to your witnesses and arrange for their attendance. At the hearing, some Courts will postpone the hearing and require the parties to attend mediation (see below). Other Courts will allow the parties to present evidence, at the conclusion of which, the Court will render temporary orders for conservatorship of the children, the rights and duties of the parents, visitation, child support, health insurance, temporary use of property and temporary payment of bills.
Step 5: Attending mediation. Mediation is an informal settlement conference that includes both parties, their attorneys, and a neutral attorney acting as mediator, appointed by the Court or agreed to by both parties. Reaching an agreement at mediation is not mandatory, but good faith attendance at mediation is required by most Courts. If the parties reach an agreement at mediation, the agreement is memorialized in writing by the mediator, and signed by both parties. The agreement becomes binding upon filing it with the clerk of the court, and then the lawyers simply prepare an Order reflecting the agreement for the Judge to sign.
Step 6: Conducting discovery. If the case is not resolved at mediation, the case then proceeds to the discovery phase. Each party has the right to request documents and ask written questions of the other party. Additionally, information can be obtained from third parties such as banks, schools and counselors. Attorneys can also arrange to take oral depositions of witnesses. Failure of the opposing party to cooperate with discovery can result in Court sanctions. Obtaining this information will assist your attorney in settlement negotiations and in preparing for final trial if settlement isn't accomplished.
Step 7: Professional appointments. The Court has authority to appoint professionals to assist the Court in making good decisions. These appointments can include appraisers, social workers, lawyers to assist the Court in protecting the best interest of the children, and others. The opinions and conclusions of these professionals can have a major impact on the ultimate decisions made by the Court.
Step 8: Filing motions. Each party has the right to seek relief from the Court on a number of issues. For example, a party may file a motion asking the Court to punish the other party for not providing documents, or a party may file a motion asking that the other party be ordered to submit to drug testing.
Step 8: Preparing for trial. If settlement is not reached, the case will be set for a final trial. The attorney will need to spend significant amounts of time gathering, reviewing and organizing exhibits and other documents and meeting with you and the witnesses.
Step 9: Attending trial. The trial of your case will involve witnesses testifying about relevant facts, and the submission of pertinent documents for the Court to review. The attorneys can question their own witnesses, and can cross-examine witnesses on the other side. The Court may also ask questions of the witnesses. At the conclusion of the presentation of the case, the Court will then make a ruling.
Step 10: Draft and enter documents. Once the ruling has been made, the lawyers will prepare a proposed Decree and other closing documents that reflects the ruling, and submit it to the Court for signing. The signing of the Decree by the Judge concludes the case.
Divorce can be a challenging and stressful time in a person's life. Understanding the process will alleviate some of the confusion and stress of the divorce. Having an experienced family law attorney at your side will also alleviate confusion and stress, and wlll maximize your chances of success. The family law attorneys of Christiansen Law Firm have extensive experience representing spouses in contested divorce cases. Contact the offices of Christiansen Law Firm in Houston or San Antonio for a free case evaluation.