Are you getting divorced, but don’t have an attorney?
You’re not alone!
Divorce, in general, is overwhelming.
It’s a legal process, which is why many people hire lawyers who have specialized knowledge and experience handling these issues and tell them how to get divorced.
However, there are a lot of people who can’t afford the thousands of dollars to retain a private attorney and they are left to represent themselves and navigate the court system alone.
This article is meant to simplify the divorce process into manageable parts so you can get a better grasp on it and reduce your level of overwhelm.
Keep in mind that every state has it’s own laws and procedures for how to get a divorce and you should do your research to find out that specific information.
But, the process of getting divorced typically includes some form of the following:
Filing of Pleadings.
The filing of a pleading formally starts the divorce process, which most commonly is a Complaint for divorce.The filing of a Complaint puts your case on the court’s docket and radar and marks the beginning of a series of events that both parties have to follow according to the court’s calendar.
The Complaint states the cause of action (the “why” you are asking for a divorce).
Many states have adopted “Irreconcilable Differences” as a cause of action, which means the marriage didn’t work out and that’s that. That’s the most common one used. Courts really don’t care why you are getting divorced.
After the Complaint, the other party responds with either an Answer or an Answer and a Counterclaim for Divorce, which is a fancy word for filing their own Complaint for Divorce. This is a very common procedure.
Although the Complaint is the beginning of the court’s process, it doesn’t have to be the first thing you do in your divorce.
Let me explain.
If you were getting an amicable divorce and wanted to keep expenses to a minimum, then you would work out all the settlement terms and draft up the settlement agreement prior to filing the Complaint.
Then, once you file, you can request a final hearing to get the court to approve your settlement agreement and you don’t have to go through the entire litigation process, which can take months.
My point is you could, and should, start trying to work out the details of a final agreement well before you file the actual Complaint with the court. Once you file, the court will push you through the system, whether you’re ready or not.
After the pleadings, the discovery period begins. This lasts anywhere to a couple months to more than year depending on the complexity of the divorce and the number of issues that need to be resolved.
This is where both parties put all the cards on the table to see what assets exists that need to be distributed as part of the final agreement or judgment if you have a trial.
Both parties are supposed to exchange documents, statements and any other proof of all assets and debts. Once it’s determined what is in the pot, then it’s time to figure out who gets what. That is part of the negotiations that take place once all discovery is complete.
If custody is an issue, or one party owns their own business, experts may need to be hired to conduct evaluations. Those cost thousands of dollars and take a lot of time. Discovery will not end until all evaluations are completed.
You can’t just write a letter or make a phone call asking to see the Judge in your case. Whenever you want the court to do something, you have to file what’s called a motion, which is a legal term for “request.” It’s a written document that typically includes multiple parts.
Lawyers spend a lot of time preparing motions, which is why they can be expensive, so you want to make sure what you are requesting is worth it. Motions can have exhibits attached proving what you are claiming in the papers and courts rely on this proof when making decisions. A contested divorce can have multiple motions filed by both parties during the case.
It’s common practice that when one party files a motion, the other side responds by filing a cross motion (a motion of their own requesting some form of relief).
Once discovery is completed and both parties know what assets/debts are in the pot to be divided, it’s time to begin settlement negotiations. There is nothing preventing you from starting this phase of the process earlier, it’s just that unless both sides know what assets/debts exist, it’s hard to fully negotiate.
Many courts have rules that are built in to its procedures that require parties to attempt to settle their case in good faith.
This may take the form of mandatory mediation, or settlement conferences with the court. The court doesn’t want you to go to trial and trial is long and expensive so it’s preferable to try and settle your case. If both parties have attorneys, they should be encouraging settlement and trying to work it out in between court hearings and before trial.
This is the last stop on the divorce train. The majority of divorce cases never make it this far. That’s because it will cost you thousands of dollars to have your attorney prep and attend a trial for you. A divorce trial is like any other trial, except there is no jury.
You testify, have witnesses, present evidence…the whole bit. If you had expert evaluations, you have to pay them to attend and testify as well.
If you are representing yourself, you better know the court procedure for how to get a divorce in your state along with the rules of evidence because the court will expect you to be on your game as if you were a lawyer.
You are your own lawyer!
But wait, there’s more!
This is just a basic outline of the common stages of the divorce process. The real details are in how you handle each stage. If you don’t have a good attorney on your side, things can get out of hand quickly and then out of control. If you are representing yourself in your divorce, well then it’s even more important that you
Understand the process and procedure of the court you’re in and maintain emotional stability throughout the process. If I had to choose, I would emphasize the later as most important. If you are emotionally out of control, the court will not like you and you will not do well.
Neither is a good thing.
That’s why I always suggest going for counseling if you’re getting divorced. Whether you need it or not, it will help you cope with the stress of going through the process.
I go into much more detail about court procedure and emotional health in other articles, so make sure to read those.
As always, be strong, act confident and stay positive!