How to prepare for an initial divorce hearing
This guide will walk you through (a) how to prepare for your initial court hearing and (b) what to expect at the initial divorce hearing.
Preparing for the initial divorce court hearingYou will need some basic financial information for your initial divorce hearing. This consists of a completed financial disclosure statement under oath, copies of your federal and state income tax returns for the past two years, and if you are employed, a current check stub showing year to date gross and net monthly income. If you have children, you should prepare some type of a short parenting plan that lists what type of custody and placement you are seeking in court, and what alternative custody and placement you are willing to allow your spouse to have. If you are separated or plan to separate, you should also prepare a brief list of furniture and household goods to bring with you to court. Some courts require that you complete a document entitled "Findings and Order" in advance. if so, you must have that document completed at the time of your initial court hearing. Some courts also require that you sit down with your spouse and try to resolve the issues in your case. If there are attorneys, the attorneys also must meet this requirement prior to the case being called. It is important that you have as accurate financial information as you can when it comes to your income, expenses, debts and assets. You should spend careful time in advance on your financial dislosure statement to make sure all such information is completed, accurate and up to date. You must also furnish proof that you personally served the initial divorce papers on your spouse. You should have a sworn affidavit from the process server that they served your spouse with all of the initial divorce papers, which usually consist of the summons and petition for divorce, and the motion (Order to Show Cause) and Affidavit for first hearing. .
What to expect at the court hearing.You will not be divorced at the initial court hearing and your property and money will not be divided up as though you are divorced. The purpose of the initial hearing is to set temporary court orders while the divorce is pending, which usually takes about 9 months to a year to complete. Most initial divorce hearings are also held informally, meaning, there is not a court reporter in the room and you are not sworn under oath with testimony taken. If there are attorneys, they are not routinely allowed to ask questions of the parties at an initial court hearing. The court will have a limited period of time to digest all of the financial information presented and make important decisions on such issues as custody of children, placement issues, child support, where appropriate, spousal support, whether the parties can stay in the home together or whether they need to be separated, which vehicles each party can operate on a temporary basis, which bank accounts each of the parties can use, providing health insurnace for the minor children, how uninsured expenses for the children will be split, which debts and financial obligations need to be paid and any other issues that may be unique to your case. The court will have a limited time to hear the case, sometimes as little as 30 minutes, with an average initial court hearing taking about 45 minutes on most cases. This is not your opportunity to tell your life story to the court or use the hearing as an opportunity to make your spouse look bad. The person who presents the most logical, reasonable and fair minded approach to resolving the issues will most likely, receive the best results in the courtroom.; try to be a problem solver, not someone who will only agree if they get their own way. I tell my clients not to react to anything the other attorney argues in the courtroom or anything that their spouse has to say. Rather, I tell them to pay attention to what the commissioner has to say, what questions they are asking and what seems important to the court. The court commissioner is deciding the case, not your spouse and not their attorney. At the end of your initial hearing, you most likely will leave court that day with a written decision in your hand. Those court orders are enforceable and subject to contempt if they are not followed. You may be allowed the opportunity to appeal the decision to the trial court if you disagree with any of the orders made. This can vary from state to state, even county to county within the same state, so it is best to check by reading the statutory provisions in your state and the local county court rules with your appeal rights.