Once you have decided that a divorce is necessary, the first thing you need is to consult with a very experienced family law attorney who can explain your rights and help you set short and long term goals that are realistic given your circumstances. Selecting an attorney is a personal experience, as you will need an attorney with whom you are comfortable. It will be essential to develop a relationship of mutual trust and respect, so you can be confident that your lawyer is giving you advice upon which you can rely.
First Phase of Your Divorce, the Filing Phase and Court Hearing for Temporary Orders
In the first phase of your divorce you will be filing various documents and having those documents served on your spouse. If you are initiating the divorce, you are the petitioner, and if you have been served a petition you are the respondent. If you have been served it is very important to file and serve a response even if you and your spouse intend to settle your case.
A response preserves your right to participate fully in the divorce. Filing a response does not mean you cannot settle your case.
During this first phase you or your spouse may also file documents requesting the court make temporary orders for certain issues such as custody and visitation of minor children, child and or spousal support, and attorney fees and costs.
If there is domestic violence you will also need immediate emergency restraining orders to protect you and the family. If restraining orders are sought both of you should have an attorney as restraining orders are serious and impact many issues.
Second Phase of Your Divorce, Discovery and Declarations of Disclosure
The law requires that each of you serve a preliminary declaration of disclosure on the other and file a proof of service with the court that reflects you have done so. The declaration is to prevent fraud, and is intended to disclose all the known assets and debts of the community, and the assets and debts you claim are your separate property. The court will not grant you a divorce this requirement is meant. There are penalties that can be ordered against either side who does not make full and accurate disclosure. You should work carefully with your attorney through this process.
Discovery can take many forms, depending on your issues and how complex your case is. The most common form of discovery is requiring both sides to answer question in writing in response to interrogatories. In addition you both will likely be asked to produce documents in response to a demand for production of documents.
It is important to be through, timely and organized during this phase.
Third Phase, Settlement or Trial
This is the final phase of your divorce. Your goal will likely be to settle your case to avoid the time and cost involved in going to trial. Of course a settlement requires the cooperation of both sides, and a willingness to compromise on the issues. Settlement meetings are very effective in many cases, and frequently all or most issues can be resolved by settlement. If a settlement is reached than documents are prepared and sent to court, and you will not be required to go to court. If settlement is not possible, then the alternative is to go to trial on some or all of the issues.
An experienced family law attorney should be skilled in both settlement and in trial and will help you through this difficult time in your life. Remember, these three phases are flexible and are meant to help take some of the uncertainty out of what you can expect as you divorce progresses.
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