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What To Expect When You’re Expecting… A Divorce

If you ask anyone, divorce ranks as one of the most stressful events in anyone’s life. Regardless of whether or not you have kids, or how long you’ve been married, dividing up your assets and starting over is a harrowing experience. If you’re considering filing for divorce, here’s what you can expect the process to look like:

Stage One: Pleading or Filing Your Case

A Petition for Dissolution (with or without children) is filed with the court as well as a response from the opposing party. Although the Court offers boilerplate forms to initiate a divorce, we have seen our fair share of clean-up projects in which we have had to amend pleadings to assert or defend against claims or requested relief (child support, spousal maintenance, military retirement division).

Sometimes the ship has sailed and it’s impossible or extremely expensive to right the wrong or omission from the original pleadings. If nothing else, an attorney can provide a reasonable buffer between the filing party and the opposing party. After all, some comfort in challenging times is warranted by simply telling your ex, “Please contact my attorney because I don’t want to talk about this.”

Stage Two: Preparing for Your Initial Status Conference of Court Facilitator Meeting

This is a meeting where deadlines for your case are set so the Court knows your case will move along. The average divorce case in some Colorado counties can take over 4 months, depending on the assigned division and the court’s docket. More complex cases involving experts or hotly contested issues result in longer case duration and can last for several months or a full year after filing. The quickest divorce can be completed in 91 days (Colorado recognizes a statutory 90-day cooling-off period).

California carries a mandatory waiting period of six months before a divorce can be finalized. From the time you initially file for divorce, there is a six-month waiting period prior to your California divorce being finalized. Once this waiting period has passed and all of the proper divorce forms have been completed, the judge can sign the final judgment without either spouse having to appear in court if all of the documents are completed correctly. Once a judge has signed your final judgment your divorce is legally finalized.

In Texas, there is a mandatory waiting period of 60-days from the time of your initial filing of the petition for divorce. You will have to wait at least 60 days before you can present the final divorce decree to a judge.

At the Status Conference, the Court may set additional deadlines in the event the parties have not completed the disclosure and financial exchange process. In some cases, informal or formal discovery is necessary. Discovery is the process of collecting evidence by way of subpoenas, depositions, and written interrogatories (questions to be answered under oath). Disclosures (discussed above) are required and must conform to the court’s orders and standard rules of procedure. Discovery, on the other hand, is initiated at the request of either party. Rest assured, discovery can be managed by the parties with the court being available to resolve any discovery or disclosure disputes.

Stage Three: Attempting to Settle

There is no requirement that you must settle your case but the opportunity is valuable because contested issues will be identified while other issues may be resolved entirely (this is a great way to reduce legal fees where it makes no sense to argue about resolved issues!). In some cases, we are able to resolve all issues, enter into a written separation agreement, and can even file everything with the court for final approval.

It’s possible to complete the divorce process without having to appear in court for a contested hearing. Ask the attorneys at the Modern Family Law about your specific case and settlement potential, in full or in part. The legal process should never be a process that infuses conflict where none exists. If the issue isn’t contested, watch out for the attorneys who try to force you to argue about resolved issues just to add legal fees and cost to an already painful process.

If the settlement conference doesn’t resolve all of the issues between the parties, you can proceed to a Temporary Orders Hearing. Be careful though, it may or may not be to your advantage to request a temporary order hearing during the Initial Status Conference (discussed above). Temporary order hearings are exactly what they sound like: a heading to resolve temporary parenting time issues, temporary responsibilities for paying bills, temporary child support, temporary spousal maintenance (or alimony), and temporary use and possession of the marital home and other marital property.

Stage Four: Required Mediation

This is similar to the four-way settlement conference; however, a fifth party is added, an independent mediator or neutral who does not represent the parties but instead works with the parties and counsel to determine issues for resolution and to explore settlement possibilities.

A mediator is useful if offering candid opinions on important matters:

  • Are you or the opposing party being unreasonable?
  • Is the other side analyzing the issues correctly?
  • Is your particular judge inclined to rule a certain way based on a set of facts or circumstances?
  • Is there an outside-the-box way to achieve the same result to the benefit of both parties?
  • Can the mediator assist the parties in setting aside the emotions of the divorce process for the benefit of achieving an acceptable outcome?
  • Is the other party so fixed on going to trial that the mediation session can be used to gather information and discuss additional case strategies with the candid input of the mediator?

Rest assured, just like in the settlement conference, the parties do not need to be in the same room and the mediator will walk back and forth between the parties. If you can resolve all issues, you can complete a signed settlement agreement or memorandum of understanding to be used to formally draft the complete agreement.

Stage Five: Final Orders Hearing

The final orders hearing is again exactly what it sounds like – with the caveat just mentioned of course. The court will likely enter the decree of dissolution that same day and will further provide orders as to the division of all marital property, assets, and debts and will issue the Initial Child Custody Determination – the first “final” or non-temporary orders regarding parental responsibilities (parenting time, child support and decision making).

Final order hearings are not without significant risk. You will be in front of a different judge than you were for the temporary orders hearing and the judge will review the pleadings filed in your case. The judge will conduct a seemingly brief hearing (in most cases 4-8 hours but rarely multiple days) and then decide critical and significant matters that may affect you for life. In essence, a judge could know you for four hours and then decide a portion of the rest of your life. This may have you thinking more seriously about resolving your case when you have a bit more control. Many cases settle at settlement conferences and mediation sessions. Also, there is no limit on the number of mediation or settlement sessions if the parties agree to keep pursuing settlement talks.

Every Divorce Case is Unique

The reality is that most cases settle in full or in part; however, the other reality is that many cases require full contested hearings based on either the particular facts of a case, complex legal issues that the parties are unable to agree on, or, quite frankly, unreasonable and unwavering positions held by a party. The above synopsis of the divorce process in most courts is not comprehensive by any means and we don’t expect our clients to attend law school and start practicing during one of the most challenging times of the clients’ lives. However, knowing what to expect may offer comfort when making the decision to file for divorce.

Call one of our experienced divorce attorneys at Modern Family Law for a FREE consultation to determine if we are the right fit for you and your case. We pride ourselves on working to achieve results in an affordable manner. Rest assured, you are in great hands with our Domestic Relations Team at the Modern Family Law. We look forward to navigating you through the divorce process while being your advocate, legal advisor, and sounding board.

Posted February 03, 2013
Updated for 2022‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ by: MFL Team

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