At Scottsdale-based Canterbury Law Group, our legal team is well versed in Family Law including divorce. Our litigators are often asked to describe the different stages of divorce. While each divorce is unique, here is a quick review of what you may expect:
The first step in the process is filing a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage. The person who files the Petition is identified as the Petitioner (or Plaintiff) and the opposing spouse is identified as the Respondent (or Defendant.) A Petition for Dissolution of Marriage is a public record that includes basic facts about you, your spouse and your children. The document is usually brief and does not contain a great deal of personal information.
Once the Petition is filed with the Court, due process requires that the Respondent be “served” with the Petition and a Summons to Appear. Once served, your spouse has 20 days to file a written Response to the Petition. Once a Response has been filed, the attorneys then discuss if temporary order or support is needed. Temporary orders of support may include child support, spousal maintenance and marital expenses paid by one spouse to the other while the case is pending.
Financial investigation is the next step. This portion of the case involves determination of the value of the marital estate or “discovery,” which includes depositions, subpoenas, interrogatories and review of financial documents by accounting experts. If the assets and debts are agreeable by both parties, they may choose to waive formal discovery. However, if either party disagrees with their spouse’s estimate of value or the amount of debt distributed to each party, formal discovery will be necessary. Rigorous asset searches are often performed to find any hidden assets in non-disclosed accounts, safety deposit boxes, or overseas accounts.
If both parties cannot reach an agreement, the attorneys may choose to submit the issues in controversy to the Judge during a pretrial conference. Pretrial conferences are sometimes conducted in the Judge’s chambers. The Judge’s pretrial recommendations are not binding but they do indicate how the Judge might prefer to settle the case. Pretrial conferences are often a critical motivation for reaching a final settlement without preparing for a full trial on the merits. Trials are expensive and unpredictable.
In the event an agreement cannot be reached through negotiation or pretrial conference, the matter is set for trial. A case is often set several months out. During the months before trial, your attorney will be preparing your case. Trials range in duration from half a day to perhaps a week, depending on the complexity of your case. There are no jury trials in divorce cases. The decisions are made solely by the Judge. A final divorce judgment and Decree will be entered at the conclusion of the trial. Those orders remain binding upon both spouses for the life of the order unless appealed by either party within a certain number of days.