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Navigating the Divorce Process

You have decided you want to file for legal separation or dissolution, now what? The first step is to file the Summons and Petition for either legal separation or divorce. You pay the filing fee of $435.00 to the Clerk of the Superior Court and then you need to serve your spouse. Anyone over the age of 18 who is not a party to the action can personally serve for you, or you can have a process server do it for a small fee.

Once you file for divorce you will be given a court date for a Family Resolution Conference (FRC) which is a status hearing for the Court to determine where you are in the process. The FRC is usually schedule 4-6 months out from the date you filed the Petition. Next, each side will complete and exchange their preliminary declarations of disclosures. This includes mainly two forms; the Income and Expense Declaration and the Schedule of Assets and Debts. You will need to fill this out as completely as you can and disclose all sources of income, all expenses, your assets and your debts, whether separate or community property.

Typically, you have 30 days after you filed the Petition to complete these forms and attach all supporting documents such as tax returns, pay stubs, bank statements, credit card statements, retirement accounts, and information about your house and your car as well as furniture, jewelry, and personal property. Once each side has completed and exchanged their preliminary declarations of disclosure, the case can go one of three ways.

(1) Discovery- this is where the parties are allowed to request further information such as documents, account statements, employment records, or specific questions to the opposing side. There are different forms of discovery that can be used and it is best to speak to your attorney about which route you want to take when issuing discovery.

(2) Court- if there are other issues besides the divorce and property division, such as child custody and visitation, child support, spousal support, exclusive use and possession of property, attorney’s fees, appointment of an expert, etc. either party may file a Request for Order with the Court to decide certain issues. You will be given a hearing date and an opportunity to write a declaration to the Court laying out your specific requests and reasoning for each. The opposing side will most likely respond, and then you can reply. At the hearing the Court will hear argument from each side, review evidence presented, and render a decision.

(3) Settlement- if the parties want to discuss settlement negotiations, they can surpass #1 and #2 and attempt to reach a global settlement agreement on all issues. This is usually for couples that do not have any children, have a short-term marriage (less than 10 years), or do not have any assets or debts. This is a quick, cost effective way to get a divorce and works well for spouses that are on good terms and can be civil with one another.

The divorce process can be as short as six (6) months or as long as ten (10) years. It just depends on the parties and the specific issues in each case. Long-term divorces are those that have children, and/or a lot of assets and debts do take longer because of the complexity of the case. The average time frame for a divorce case from start to finish is one year.

For assistance with your family law divorce, contact Cage & Miles, LLP to speak with an experienced Family law attorney today.