With the exception of an “uncontested” case discussed below, all divorce actions start with the filing of a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage. This document is usually served upon the other spouse by an officer from the County Sheriff’s Office and the negotiation and/or litigation process begins. In cases where children are involved, the first area which must be addressed is the decision of custody, visitation and support, at least on a temporary basis while the case is pending in the court. As with all matters, these issues are resolved either by agreement between the parties or, absent an agreement, by the judge after a contested hearing in court. Once temporary custody and support matters are resolved, the case moves into the fact finding or discovery stage. During this stage, all the relevant facts and supporting financial documentation are compiled and exchanged by the parties in order to prepare them and their attorneys for settlement negotiations. If “permanent” custody of children remains a disputed issue, the judge will order the custody evaluation process to begin during this stage as well (see Custody, Visitation and Support addressed herein). Once the discovery process is completed, settlement proposals are exchanged by the parties in an effort to resolve the entire case. If the parties are unable to reach a settlement agreement, the judge will conduct a pretrial conference with the attorneys and/or the parties to assist them with the settlement process. Often times, the judge will offer recommendations on those areas in dispute between the parties. If the case is not settled after a pretrial conference with the judge, the attorneys will begin their preparation for trial. After outstanding discovery efforts are completed, the evaluation process for custody disputes is finalized and the case then moves on to trial.
If you have already reached an agreement with your spouse on the terms of your divorce prior to instituting a divorce action, the divorce can be processed through the court system within two or three weeks provided both parties are truly willing to execute all the supporting documents necessary to finalize the divorce. This is what is commonly referred to as an “uncontested divorce case.”