How to Get a Divorce – Part 2

By: Jessica N. Mazur Practice Area: Family Law

Often times in the middle of a divorce you may wonder:  where am I in the process, what’s going on, what’s next, why isn’t this over yet?  This article will take you through the first steps of the divorce process so that at any given moment you know where you are and what to expect next.

Step 1 – Initial consultation and retaining counsel:  Following your initial consultation, you should feel comfortable with your attorney, that you’ve been heard, and that your attorney knows your goals and how you would ideally like to achieve them.  To retain an attorney, you must sign a retainer agreement and pay a retainer fee.  Make sure you understand how payment works.  For example, when does your retainer need to be replenished and, if you decide to stop the process (yes, you can do that), is your retainer refundable?

Step 2 – How to start litigation:  In order to begin litigation, a Complaint for Divorce needs to be filed, or if it has already been filed, you may need to file a response.  If you have been personally served, you have 35 days from the date of being served to file a response (this is a very important deadline.)  Certain basic information is needed in order to file the Complaint, including your date/place of marriage, address, age of your children, insurance information for the Affidavit of Insurance, and personal data for the Confidential Litigant Information Sheet.  Your spouse needs to engage in the process at this point.[1]  He/she can file a response to the Complaint, which is standard and no cause for alarm.  The filing of a response usually contains your spouse’s own request for a Divorce, known as a Counterclaim.  If you don’t think you want to jump right into litigation and want to know your options, check out this article:  How to Get a Divorce – Part I.

Step 3 – First court date:  The filing of the Counterclaim document lets the court know that your case is live and the court will schedule your first court date.  At this point, Case Information Statements must be completed.  To understand the importance of this form, see my previous article here. The first court date is known as Case Management Conference.  This date is an opportunity for the court to be made aware of the issues in dispute, for example: child custody/support, college costs, alimony and equitable distribution.  In addition, discovery deadlines are set.  This includes, dates upon which documents need to be requested and provided, valuations of businesses/pensions, appraisals of homes/valuables, and retaining custody experts.  Typically, the court can be advised of the issues in dispute and the discovery deadlines by way of a document called a Case Management Consent Order.  This requires the attorneys to come to an agreement.  It is not typical for a client to attend this court date, but some courts wish the parties to be present.  Your lawyer will let you know if your presence is required.

Step 4 – Discovery:  Exchange of discovery means an exchange of bank statements, retirement account statements, credit card statements, income taxes, and anything else addressed in the Case Management Order from Step 3.  Expert reports relating to business valuations, cash flow analysis, ability to earn, or custody evaluations will also be completed and exchanged.  Though many cases settle without a significant exchange of discovery, it is wise to make sure you have all the information necessary to make an informed decision.  Once all the necessary information is gathered you will move onto the next steps, which will be discussed in the next installment: How to Get a Divorce – Part 3.

If you would like to explore the above options or learn more about other roads to divorce, including the Collaborative Divorce process or Arbitration, please contact me, Jessica N. Mazur at jmazur@hoaglandlongo.com or call me at 732-545-4717 x3859.

 

[1] If your spouse does not engage in the process, then after 35 days you may file a request to Enter Default.  You may then proceed without your spouse’s participation.  You will be required to personally serve them 20 days before the final hearing to notify them of the ultimate relief you are seeking as part of the Final Judgment of Divorce.