As with all legal matters, the divorce process can be complicated and confusing. Understanding the process and how a divorce case is litigated through the family court system can help relieve some of the stress and anxiety that comes with going through a divorce.
The divorce process begins with the filing of the Petition for Divorce – there are several other documents that get filed with the Petition for Divorce, including the Case Information Sheet, Financial Statement, Summons, Vital Statistics form, the Parenting Plan, and a BCSE form. These documents are filed with the Circuit Clerk in the appropriate county where the divorce proceedings shall take place, then your spouse must be properly served with these documents. Proper service means they are personally handed the documents by a process server or sheriff, or they sign for the documents by certified mail, return receipt requested. If your spouse cannot be located, then service by publication may be necessary. Once the other party is properly served with the Petition, they have 20 days to file an Answer to the Petition with the accompanying documents. After the other party has been served and their time to answer has passed, a temporary hearing date is set.
The temporary hearing is usually a short hearing. The parties tell the Judge the circumstances of the case, and the Judge establishes temporary arrangements for the parties to follow until an agreement is made and the divorce is finalized. This temporary arrangement may dictate temporary support payments, living arrangements, and/or parenting schedules while the parties and their attorneys figure out the division of marital property and assets. Sometimes, the temporary hearing can also serve as a final hearing, depending on if the parties have already reached an agreement. If the parties have not reached an agreement, a date is set for the final hearing, usually three to six months after the temporary hearing. After the temporary hearing, the parties may attempt to reach an agreement through mediation or settlement conference. If an agreement is reached, the attorneys will submit a Proposed Order to the Judge for entry.
Usually, the Judge will make his/her final decision at the final hearing. However, depending on the circumstances and facts of the case, the Judge may decide to issue a ruling later. The final order may be prepared by the attorneys or the Judge. This order lays out how the marital assets are to be divided, what support payments shall be made and by whom, parenting schedules and any other provisions that parties agreed to, or the Court deemed appropriate. Upon entry of the Judge’s Final Order, the parties are officially divorced.
While this post may make the divorce process seem simple, there is so much more that happens behind the scenes and in between the different stages of divorce. Divorce is a very difficult and emotional time in each of the parties’ lives. There will be conflict, change, and heartache. Having an experienced attorney on your side to advocate for you and protect your rights is essential to ensuring a positive outcome, and will make the transition into the post-divorce chapter of your life that much smoother.