After a petition for dissolution of marriage is filed, a common question is what’s next? It seems almost impossible to figure out how to navigate between the actual filing of the paperwork to start the process, to getting to the final decree. Here are the 7 basic steps to keep in mind, which are the same steps you will follow whether you are represented by an attorney or are doing it on your own.
- Filing of the Petition. All divorces start with the filing of the petition for dissolution of marriage.
- Filing a Response. The person who is served with the Petition has 20 days to file a response. The response does not need to be detailed, but should address whether the responding party admits, or denies each of the statements made in the Petition. At this point the case becomes “at issue.”
- Once “at Issue” the court will generally set a resolution management conference. The resolution management conference is 15 minutes and in most of the larger counties is now being done by telephone or video. It is the court’s way to find out what has been agreed to and what has not been agreed to and whether the parties are going to go to mediation or whether a trial date should be set.
- Discovery phase. Within 40 days after the filing of the response, the parties are required to exchange certain financial information in their possession that existed for the 6 months prior to the filing of the petition through the date of disclosure. This includes bank records, credit card statements, business books and records, and financial statements. There may be other documents required depending on whether child support or spousal maintenance are contested issues in the case.
- Valuation of Assets. Since all property must be identified and valued, there may be a need to retain third party experts to assist in valuing the property. This is necessary in the event that property or a business is being kept by one party as opposed to being sold and the proceeds divided. Business valuation experts can value businesses. Appraisals may need to be done on houses and other real property. There may even be a need to retain an appraiser for personal property, such as expensive artwork. While the parties can decide to forego an appraisal if they have an idea of value, you have the option of an appraisal to find out the real value of businesses and property before you agree on how to divide the assets. Some appraisals the parties may do jointly to save money. Other times the parties may hire their own independent person.
- After discovery and valuation of the assets, virtually every case proceeds to mediation before being set for a trial date. Mediations can be done in person or through a video platform such as Zoom. Mediation may be done with or without attorneys.
- Settlement/Trial. Whatever is resolved in mediation is deemed settled and is generally written into a formal agreement. If there are no issues remaining the terms agreed to in mediation will be written into a consent decree signed by both parties and their respective attorneys and then filed with the court. Once the judge signs the Decree, the divorce is final. If there are any issues that could not be settled in mediation, the court will set a trial date. The length of trial will depend on how many issues remain unresolved. Generally trial is set for a half day or a full day. Once the judge rules, then the final decree of dissolution of marriage will be entered.
The above 7 steps are a general overview of the process. Each case is unique. For example, there may need to be temporary orders issued, or other steps to take in your case to protect your rights.