Divorce as a legal matter is a straightforward but somewhat time-consuming process. At its core, a divorce is only a property division between two parties, much like a business split between partners. That said, the emotional toll a divorce takes can sometimes be momentous and disruptive. If there are children involved, the experience can be traumatic for everybody.
With that in mind, we realized that the most important thing to our divorce clients is their experience with the process. The more we can help our clients understand the law, how it works and why, and what their their options are, the more informed they feel about the choices they make. We have succeeded when our clients feel they were treated fairly, that the right discussions were had, and that they had enough information to make the best choices.
The process, task list and timeline differs depending on the family’s situation: If there is real estate or business ownership involved, whether there are children, or if there are unfortunate circumstances requiring an order for protection.
Generally, the divorce process follows the timeline below. Remember that at any point in the process, the parties may file a settlement agreement called a Stipulated Judgment and Decree.
• The Petition is drafted and served on the other party, who has 30 days to respond with an Answer or Counter-Petition.
• The Petition is filed with the Court shortly after service but largely depends on the spouse’s response.
• The Court schedules an Initial Case Management Conference (ICMC) 3-4 weeks after receiving the Petition.
• If children, the Social Early Neutral Evaluation (SENE) is scheduled and parties focus on custody, parenting time, and co-parenting issues. A review hearing with the court follows shortly after the SENE.
• If serious outstanding issues remain after the SENE, a Custody Evaluation may take place, which typically may take three months to complete.
After all parenting issues are resolved, or if no children, the Financial Early Neutral Evaluation (FENE) is scheduled, and parties focus on all property, debt and financial issues. A review hearing with the court follows shortly after the FENE.
• If there is no settlement, the Court will order a trial, and pretrial conferences are set to determine the issues and address discovery, witnesses and other matters.
• The trial then follows, with a Final Order from the judge on all issues that are argued at trial.
Appeals, if any, are then commenced.
The easiest situation is where both parties agree to most or all of the property and parenting issues and little needs to be discussed. In those circumstances, a joint petition and stipulated judgment and decree may be drafted, filed with the court, and approved by a judge with no hearing required. Generally, a judge will approve a joint petition unless she or he perceives inequality towards one party or any children
Divorce without children is also relatively straightforward, the only issue being a division of marital property and debt, and sometimes compensation to the spouse for certain expenses, like college tuition resulting in a higher paying position. These issues are resolved through a financial mediation process which is attended by both parties and their lawyers, who determine everything from the parties’ equity in real estate to child support, or the spouse’s share of retirement funds and many other types of marital property which by law are divided equally between the parties.
Divorce with children can be somewhat more complicated, because the couple needs to work out issues like parenting time, child support and co-parenting arrangements. Disputes over these issues are largely resolved in a social mediation process attended by both parties with their attorneys. The parties meet with a male and female evaluation team. One is a specialized psychologist and one is an attorney. They consult directly with the parties and make a recommendation as to how the court would likely rule in a trial, and bring the parties to agreement on parenting time and specific co-parenting matters.
The success rate for the first round of mediation is about 75%.