Making the decision to divorce is the most important step in any divorce. It is serious and means that you are ready to end your marriage. This decision can often be clear, while other times not. Although the legal process can be stopped, engaging it can lead to a myriad of charged emotions, broken trust, and other problems. Thus, it is very important that you don’t start the divorce process until you are absolutely sure that you want to end your marriage.
If you have decided to initiate the legal divorce process (also referred to as a dissolution of marriage), it is important to have a clear understanding of the process. It is highly recommended that individuals seek the guidance of a licensed family attorney to help them through the process. There are times, though, when the Plaintiff, Respondent or both parties will elect to represent themselves in the divorce process. When this happens, it is referred to as “pro se” or “in pro persona”.
Family Laws and Procedures are highly complex. Divorce is also usually a highly charged and emotional process…one that can interfere with an individual’s ability to think clearly and maintain their composure. When an individual chooses to represent themselves, it is important to understand that the court will typically not provide any breaks or latitude for not understanding or applying the laws and procedures. Thus, if you miss a deadline to file an important document, miss an opportunity to object, don’t respond to an interrogatory or request for disclosure…the court will most likely not provide you with a second chance and in situations where it disrupts process or creates avoidable issues, may find the individual in contempt.
Although there are similar steps, processes, procedures and laws in the United States, in most circumstances, the laws of your state will be those you are subject to. That said, the following reflects steps commonly associated with the divorce process:
1. Petition for Divorce
2. Response to Petition
3. Serving Documents
4. Filing Documents
5. Temporary Orders
The parties in the divorce will also have the opportunity to settle their issues, which when possible, is the preferred direction to pursue. Courts encourage parties to settle their difference as they are personal matters and each marriage is different. If settlement isn’t reached, the parties are subjected to a judge, who doesn’t know the parties, to apply the laws in the manner they feel is best and consistent with laws and procedures. When this happens, the chances of both parties feeling angry, aggravated, and defeated increase substantially. Settling the issues is also recommended as it can save time and money…which will likely be much and expensive…if settlement can’t be reached.
Steps involved in the divorce process
The final step in a divorce is the judgment of dissolution and is generally obtained by:
1. True Default (this occurs when a Petition is filed, the other party doesn’t respond, there is no signed agreement between the parties, and the court is asked to finalize the divorce).
2. Default with Agreement (this occurs when the parties execute a written document detailing the divorce agreements and ask the court to enter the judgment based upon that agreement).
3. Uncontested (this is where the response/answer is filed and both parties execute a written agreement).
4. Court Hearing (this occurs when the court is asked to make orders in the case and then enters judgment based upon those orders).
Once the court has its direction, the divorce becomes final when the judge signs the judgment and notice of the entry of the judgment is executed and filed by the court.
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