While the contested divorce process is obviously familiar to your divorce attorney, it is likely something new to you. Getting a general outline of what is in store can help you to be ready for the weeks and months ahead, both practically and emotionally. Breaking the contested divorce process into easily understandable stages can make the whole thing easier to wrap your head around. A local divorce attorney can help to make the entire process easier.
Contested Divorce – Initial Steps
- The Complaint and Summons: It all starts with one spouse filing a complaint describing the grounds for divorce and the basic details related to the parties. The court will then issue a summons with the attached complaint to the responding spouse, requiring a response. At this point, it will become clear whether or not this is a contested divorce. A contested divorce will clearly require more time and deliberation.
- Discovery: The facts outlined in the original complaint and any counterclaims will now be verified.Documents may be requested related for finances and other matters. Assets will be appraised, child custody issues will be examined, and interrogatories will be given to each spouse to answer. There is a potential that both spouses will be interviewed under oath with a court reporter present to record answers.
- Motions and Hearings: In the best-case scenario, spouses will be able to resolve the majority of issues with the help of their attorneys. In the event resolution does not occur, a motion will be filed asking for the judge to determine the outcome. Hearings will be held to determine temporary issues while the divorce proceeds. Some temporary issues to be weighed might include spousal support, child custody and support, and possession of the family home. Each of these issues will hold until the divorce is finalized, when a more permanent solution is determined.
- Pre-trial Conferences/Court-Ordered Mediation: At this point, an attorney will file notice requesting a trial date. In some cases, a judge may order parties to make one more attempt to determine a mutually agreeable outcome on all matters through conferencing or mediation. While it may be difficult to come to a compromise, this is the last opportunity for the parties to work together to determine the outcomes of their divorce. This is often a time to get a sense of how the judge is looking at the specific issues of this divorce.
- Trial: A divorce is a civil proceeding, and the actual trial will unfold in several distinct steps:
Contested Divorce Process – Trial
- Opening statements from each side;
- Evidence to support the claims of the plaintiff, potentially including documents, witnesses, and exhibits, each to be challenged by the defendant’s side;
- Presentation of evidence to support the defendant, including cross-examination by the prosecution;
- Rebuttal by the plaintiff;
- Closing arguments by both sides;
- Judge’s ruling on any issues under dispute, along with the judgment for dissolution of the marriage.