Typical Stages In A Divorce Proceeding
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You can also learn more about the five main steps of the divorce process here:
One spouse files a sworn document with the clerk of the court requesting a divorce. The document may also ask for other related items where appropriate such as: custody, support, marital property distribution, payment of counsel fees and resumption of one’s prior name.
This complaint, together with a summons, is typically served by the sheriff on the other spouse or is sent to that party’s attorney.
The other spouse to the divorce action may file his or her own counterclaim for divorce and related relief.
3. Pendente Lite Relief
“Pendente Lite” is Latin for pending litigation. It is simply that stage of the proceeding between the filing of the complaint and the time for the final hearing. Depending on the county in which a case is pending, this time period may be anywhere from nine months to two years. During this time, one spouse may file a request for a court order to deal with issues related to the divorce on a temporary basis.
These pendente lite orders are in effect until the final hearing. These rulings can be critical and may significantly impact the outcome of a case.
Requests for pendente lite relief typically include the following:
- payment of support;
- payment of certain liabilities;
- restraints against selling or borrowing against marital property;
- advances for attorney’s fees and expert fees;
- temporary custody and visitation.
After the complaint is filed, and before the final hearing, each of the parties is entitled to seek information from the other. That information is intended to be used at the time of trial to present one’s own case. Most of the information sought is financial in nature. The courts are hesitant to permit either party to use the judicial process to harass or punish the other. However, when custody is at issue, they will permit broad access to other areas of a person’s life in an effort to determine the best interests of the child. The process of collecting information is called “discovery”. It includes the following mechanisms:
- Interrogatories: These are written questions which the other spouse must answer under oath.
- Request for production: This is a written request to produce specified documents such as bank records, insurance policies, contracts, etc.
- Depositions: This is a proceeding which is sparingly used in matrimonial cases. Both parties, along with their attorneys, are questioned by the opposing attorney in the presence of a court reporter who transcribes each question and answer in a booklet known as a transcript. These proceedings are usually held at an attorney’s office at a mutually agreed upon date and time.
Discovery is, by it’s nature, a lengthy and expensive process. It can include an accountant’s report, property appraisals, psychological evaluations and the like. No report can be used at a trial unless it is made available to both parties. It is the objective of the discovery process to ensure that both parties are fully prepared for trial. Moreover, it enables the parties to enter into settlement negotiations with a full understanding of the facts.
5. Final Hearing
If the parties, either directly and/or with the assistance of their attorneys reach a settlement on the collateral issues of the divorce (custody, support, equitable distribution), then a property settlement agreement is drawn which outlines that settlement. Once the agreement is signed by both parties, then the cause is deemed “uncontested.” By being uncontested, the court is then relieved of the task of deciding these issues and the parties will be divorced on the next available hearing date. Uncontested hearings are scheduled usually within weeks, and sometimes days, of a request. The trial itself is a very brief proceeding, typically 30 minutes in length.
If the parties cannot reach an agreement on any or all of the collateral issues, then a trial is held. Trials are usually several days in length, but may require weeks and even months depending on the complexity of the issues. Upon the conclusion of the testimony, the court renders a decision determining whatever areas the parties left open for resolution. They may include all issues related to the divorce case. However, in some cases, the parties will leave only limited issues for a court to decide.