From Start To Finish: Overview Of The Stages Of A Divorce Trial
Parties seeking a contested divorce – i.e. where the spouses disagree on key issues – should become familiar with the stages of a divorce trial . It’s important to do so not only to understand the procedure followed by the courts, but also to recognize the potential high cost of taking that approach. The more time and effort invested by the attorneys and judge, the greater the expense of finalizing the divorce.
Below, we’ll take you through the stages of a divorce trial, and provide a brief explanation regarding what happens at each stage. Realize that the entire process can take months to complete. If you are eager to put the proceedings behind you, it’s worth reconsidering whether enduring a trial is the best option.
First Stage: The Petition For Divorce Is Filed
In order to start the process, a petition must be filed with the court. This document addresses two important details. First, it provides the grounds upon which the dissolution of marriage is sought. Second, if the filing spouse – or petitioner – requires some sort of financial relief, the type and amount sought will be listed in the petition.
When the court receives the petition, it issues a summons to the other spouse, referred to as the respondent. The respondent has a set number of day in which to respond to the facts contained in the petition.
Second Stage: Discovery And Review Of Financial Statements
Once the respondent answers the petition, the attorneys for both parties begin the process of discovery. During this time, the attorneys review their clients’ financial statements and any other documents that may reveal assets and provide insight into each party’s expenses. This is done with the goal of determining a fair division of the marital property following the divorce.
Both spouses may be required to field questions from the attorneys. This is done during an oral deposition. This is a procedure used to gain better insight into the financial status of each spouse and to uncover any inconsistencies that place one of the spouses at a disadvantage.
Third Stage: Motions, Hearings, And Orders
Oftentimes, the lawyers for the divorcing couple will have conflicting views on how to approach a given issue. For example, one spouse may want short-term spousal support while the trial is underway. If the other spouse is resistant to the idea, the lawyers may ask the court judge to decide the matter. A motion and objection are filed for this reason.
The judge will call a hearing during which both attorneys present their respective cases. Once the judge has heard both sides, he or she will issue an order regarding the matter. This order is considered final.
Motions can be filed, and orders issued, for a wide range of circumstances. But the basic procedure as described above remains the same.
Fourth Stage: Resolving Disputes Prior To Trial
At this point in the divorce process, the case is ready to be heard in court. The only thing needed is a trial date, which is provided by the judge. It’s important to realize that in many jurisdictions, there is a significant inventory of cases to be heard. For this reason, trial dates can potentially be scheduled a year or more in the future.
Many judges try to handle this problem by requiring divorcing couples to make a final attempt to resolve issues before going to trial. Doing so can cut down the time needed to hear the case. It can also result in better settlement terms than those decreed by the judge.
Fifth Stage: The Divorce Trial
The actual trial may require very little time depending on the circumstances. If the divorcing spouses were able to resolve a significant number of issues prior to the trial, it should proceed smoothly. Otherwise, the proceedings may take substantial time, increasing the expense.
Both parties’ attorneys offer opening statements and provide evidence. Rebuttals of the evidence follow along with closing arguments. The judge then issues a ruling on each issue that remains unresolved between the couple.
Sixth Stage: Finalizing The Divorce
The last step is to finalize the divorce. This is accomplished by creating a divorce decree, a document that grants the couple a termination, or dissolution, of their marriage. It may include details regarding the court’s decisions on various issues. As such, the decree might address how the couple’s property is to be divided, how custody of their children is to be handled, and the terms of any spousal or child support.
With the decree issued, the couple’s divorce is considered final. They are expected to comply fully with the court’s decisions.
The process described above can be very expensive and time-consuming. This is one of the reasons divorcing spouses are advised to resolve matters without seeking a trial. Moreover, the decisions rendered by the court are oftentimes considered unfair by both parties, making a trial even less appealing.