Timeline of a Divorce
Have you tried marital counseling? Have you gotten input from trusted friends and family? You may consider speaking with a therapist before moving forward with the decision. However, at the end of the day, the decision to be made is with you. You know what is best for you and your family!
Obtain divorce attorney referrals from friends, family members, and/or colleagues who have gone through the divorce process already. Peruse divorce attorneys’ websites and online reviews.
This can be a costly endeavor, but meeting with a few divorce attorneys to determine the attorney who is right for you, could be a wise investment in your future. Do not immediately discount attorneys who do not provide free consultations. Often times, you get what you pay for (or don’t pay for).
Gather your most recent tax returns, pay stubs, account statements (i.e. bank, investment, retirement, mortgage, credit card, etc.), and plan to provide them to your attorney(s). If you anticipate a custody battle over children, you may also find it beneficial to bring materials you have been collecting to support your custody position. If you decide not to retain a particular divorce attorney, be sure to take your documents and materials with you after the meeting.
You may find it beneficial to prepare a list of questions that you would like to have answered by the conclusion of the consultation(s). A good divorce attorney will likely answer the majority of your questions before you even need to turn to your list. However, every person is different, and you should be prepared to communicate your priorities and areas of concern to your divorce attorney.
After your divorce consultation(s), you should have a good idea of the attorney you would like to retain. So, retain him or her. This typically entails the payment of a retainer and entry into an engagement letter/legal services agreement. The engagement letter/legal services agreement will outline the role and responsibilities of your attorney, while also explaining your responsibility regarding payment for the attorney’s services. Be sure to review this document carefully; it is a contract.
Then, your divorce attorney will commence the divorce process with the filing of a Complaint for Divorce, wherein you put the Court and your spouse on notice, very generally, of what you are seeking out of the divorce (i.e. alimony, child support, division of assets and debts, reimbursement for your attorney’s fees expenses, etc.);
Sometimes, at this juncture, and to the extent the parties and attorneys cannot come to a temporary agreement, it may be necessary to seek a temporary hearing before the Judge assigned to your case. The Judge can determine which party shall reside in the house during the pendency of the case, how the household expenses should be paid in the interim, what the custody and parenting time arrangements should be on a temporary basis, how attorney’s fees will be paid, etc. In a contested custody case, the Judge may further decide that a Guardian Ad Litem should be appointed to perform an investigation as to the custody and parenting time arrangements would serve the best interests of the minor children at issue;
In many cases, you and your divorce attorney will need to engage in the discovery process, wherein the divorcing parties will answer Interrogatories (questions), produce documents, and complete a Domestic Relations Financial Affidavit, outlining your respective incomes, expenses, assets, and debts. The discovery process is the step that tends to take the longest and clients find most tedious. But it produces a wealth of information to your divorce attorney, so that he or she can properly advise you in your case. Additionally, depending on the need, there are other discovery measures that can be taken to find out additional information, such as depositions;
Upon the completion of discovery, it will be time to pursue settlement of your divorce action, which typically includes the exchange of offers of compromise, negotiations, and the participation in mediation or other alternative dispute resolution measures. All good divorce attorneys will work to settle your case without the need for a final trial, which can be emotional and expensive. If an agreement is reached between the parties, it will be necessary for the parties to execute a formal Settlement Agreement, and if there are minor children involved, a Parenting Plan and Child Support Addendum as well.
In the event a settlement is not reached, then a trial will take place, at which time, the Judge will make a determination of all matters in your divorce case. Preparation for trial requires significant collaboration between the attorney and the client, so that the case is well presented to the Judge (or jury, whichever the case may be).
Your divorce will be finalized upon the entry of a Final Judgment and Decree of Divorce by the Judge.
Thereafter, there may be post-divorce matters to address, such as the preparation of a Qualified Domestic Relations Order for the division of a 401(K) Plan or pension, the sale of a marital home, etc. Moreover, if, after the divorce, a party fails to comply with any provisions of the Final Judgment and Decree of Divorce, the other party’s recourse is to file a contempt action against him or her.