An Overview of Litigated Divorce

Our divorce practice is unique from other law practices in that we work with clients to establish the best legal route for their particular case. Often times that means not going through litigation, and instead focusing on mediation or collaboration.

There are two constants in a divorce: Petition for Dissolution of Marriage and Judgment for Dissolution of Marriage. Whether you go the route of litigation, mediation or collaboration, you will need to request that the court dissolve your marriage and the court must grant your request to dissolve your marriage.

The general steps of a litigated divorce:

  1. File your Petition for Dissolution of Marriage and corresponding documents required by court.
  2. Serve divorce papers on your spouse. The Sheriff gets 30 days to do this, and then your spouse gets 30 days to file an appearance, which is the document your spouse or his/her attorney must file with the court in order to enter into the case. At the very outset, your case could take 60 days to even begin. This assumes there are no domestic violence or emergency issues, which often times allows you to get into court sooner on that particular issue only.
  3. Complete Financial Affidavit. You can begin this step while you are waiting for your spouse to enter into the case. A Financial Affidavit is a document that requests financial information from you such as income, expenses, assets, and debts. If you are unfamiliar with your family budget, or have been largely left out of the financial picture, this can be a challenge. However, a skilled attorney will know how to work with you to get the information you need.
  4. Financial Discovery. After you complete your Financial Affidavit, and your spouse has entered into the case, you can serve discovery on your spouse, which includes request for documents and requests to answer specific questions. Your spouse can also serve discovery on you. The discovery process can also include subpoenas and expert evaluations.
  5. Child and Parenting Issues. Discovery can also include child related issues, such as home studies, expert evaluations, evaluations of school and medical records, and evaluation of potential witnesses. It is also possible at this point that the Court may appoint a Child Representative or Guardian ad Litem to represent the interests of your minor children.  This is a third attorney who is usually paid for by the parties.
  6. Full discovery, if it occurs, whether financial or child-related can be lengthy, anywhere from less than a year, to two to three years, or longer. However, full discovery isn’t required in all cases.
  7. Court dates. There are court dates that typically begin from when the case starts until the case is resolved, which include statuses, hearings to compel discovery, hearings for temporary relief (such as spousal support, child support, orders of protection, etc.), case management conferences and pretrial conferences. This is not meant to be all-inclusive, and other issues can arise.

This is meant to be a very general overview of the process, and numerous issues can arise over the course of your divorce that expedite or prolong the process.  However, you should also keep in mind that just because something is listed here, does not mean it will apply to your case: for example, you may have limited financial assets and means, which might mean your financial discovery is limited. Or, you may not have children, which means there will be no parenting issues to resolve. It is key to discuss with an attorney well-versed in both litigation, and other alternatives, such as mediation and collaborative, in order to determine the best plan for you and your family.

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