Filing, answer, discovery, mediation, depositions, trial, and more.
It is strange to think of divorce as having milestones as these are usually associated with the life of a marriage or the growth of a child. A comprehensive definition of a milestone as it refers to divorce is provided by the Cambridge English Dictionary which defines “milestone” as “an important event in the development or history of something in someone’s life.” As with other of life’s milestones, divorce has its own set of milestones as the case moves from selecting one’s attorney to the final judgment signed by a judge. Even in the case when there is a successful marital agreement arrived at during mediation, a judge will still review the agreement before finalizing the divorce. Along the way to completion, there are several milestones which point to the ongoing development of a divorce case. Each case has its own set of milestones, but for most, there are several common happenings which signify a milestone. Too, the divorce process can vary from state to state, but again there are similarities in the occurrence of milestones. The most important milestones include:
The Petition: One of the parties, usually through their lawyer, files a petition for divorce through the court located in their county of residence. This petition is served, usually by a sheriff, to the other party who will sign that the petition was received. Also known as Petition for Dissolution, Divorce Complaint, and Complaint for Divorce, the petition requests the end of the marriage between spouses, putting forth the reasons the divorce should take place. In no-fault states, there need be no reason for divorce other than a desire to be divorced. The term used in no-fault states is “the marriage is irrevocably broken,” and divorce is referred to as a “dissolution of marriage.”
The Response: In most cases, the person receiving the petition has 20 days to respond with his or her answer to the petition. Again, this is usually done with the help of an attorney. You should pay careful attention to all that the petition contains regarding timelines if other motions have been served (i.e., temporary orders), and any forms that are to be filled out at this time.
Discovery: This involves the exchange of information between parties which is relevant to their divorce. Often it is information not known by the opposing party, information crucial to the best outcome. There are five milestones for an attorney to “discover” information. These are:
• Interrogatories-a list of questions sent to the other party to be answered within 30 days. Most states have a limit as to how many questions can be asked. Information pertinent to the couple’s marriage as it relates to divorce is included such as spending habits, time spent away from home, and monetary contributions to maintaining the home.
• Disclosure – a list of specific items that the other party must provide within 30 days to the attorney representing the party asking for disclosure. This can include, bank statements, deeds to property, and credit card statements. Documents not provided in the disclosure can be asked for later in a request for production. E-mails, photos, and videos can be on the requested disclosure list.
• Request for Production – is a request for documents from the opposing party that are pertinent to the divorce case. Each item to be inspected must be separately identified. Examples are papers proving job loss, business ledgers, and documents which will be used by an expert witness when called on for an opinion of the documents.
• Deposition – taking a sworn statement from the opposing party and any person who will be used as a witness. Whatever is said in a deposition can be used in court should the case not be settled in mediation and go to court.
• Admission of fact – a written list of facts is given to the other party who must then deny or admit the facts as truth. An example would be “Is it true or false you been taking money from our savings to pay gambling debts”.
Negotiated Settlement is of three kinds, mediation, arbitration, and alternative dispute resolution. All these keep the case out of a public courtroom. Mediation is the most popular as it allows the couple to have control of how their divorce will be settled.
The trial happens when the parties cannot agree and so a judge must decide how it will all end. He or she will determine alimony, the care and nurturing of minor children often referred to as parental time sharing, child support, equal or equitable distribution of marital assets and liabilities (debts) and any other issues resulting from the marriage which need to be resolved.
Milestones in a divorce are there to provide a sense of progression as the case moves toward the final outcome. A competent Family Law attorney will know how to address each milestone for the best use of information, testimony, and evidence. For more information, if you live in Palm Beach, Martin, St. Lucie, Miami Dade, Broward, Orange or Hillsborough counties in Florida or in New York or Washington DC you can call the office of Attorney Grant Gisondo at (561) 530-4568 to set up an appointment for a free, initial, in-office consultation where Attorney Gisondo will meet with you to answer questions and share how he can help. His office hours are Monday through Friday from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM and, for new clients, Saturday from 8:30 AM to 1:00 PM.