If you are divorcing, chances are it’s the first time you’ve dealt with a lawyer and the court system. Dealing with the unknown can be scary and intimidating. The best way to start managing your fears is to arm yourself with knowledge about how to divorce.
So, what are the divorce steps you can expect to go through?
Initial Divorce Steps
The steps involved in the legal process are:
- The filing of a petition for dissolution of marriage (that’s what Missouri calls divorce). Most petitions look alike—facts about the date of your marriage and separation, a few facts about your kids, and the critical language, that the marriage is “irretrievably broken.”
- Along with the petition, most courts require you to file financial statements. These are affidavits that include all of your property and debts, as well as your income and expenses.
- The petition needs to be “served” on your spouse. If your spouse is represented by an attorney, the attorney can “accept service,” and eliminate the need for your spouse to be handed the papers by a process server. Many cases are handled this way, to avoid surprise and embarrassment.
- The filing of an “answer” to the petition. Since most of the petition is a series of non-controversial facts, the answer will simply admit those facts. Even if the facts are denied, nothing is resolved one way or the other until all of the facts can be sorted out.
Additional Divorce Steps
From this point forward, many different things can happen. Depending upon the particulars of your case, the lawyers may want to gather financial or other information through a process called “discovery.” This can include sending “subpoenas” to employers, banks, credit card companies, and other institutions.
In some cases, there is a need to establish temporary orders, referred to as “PDL orders.” These orders can include establishing a parenting schedule, support payments, payments of attorneys’ fees, and other rules to keep things on as even a keel as possible while the case is being resolved. If both sides can’t agree on these, judges will sometimes step in to assist the family.
Some cases will also use a “guardian ad litem,” an attorney whose sole job is to protect your children’s interests. If a GAL is appointed, the husband and wife will generally be ordered to pay for the GAL’s fees.
While all of these steps are going on, the attorneys will try to assist their clients in resolving all of the divorce issues in their case to reach a settlement. Judges will sometimes schedule settlement conferences, both to make sure the case is making progress, and also to help the two sides come together. Most cases are not tried before a judge; most are settled. If your case is settled, you will probably not ever have to go into court. If you can’t settle, you will find yourself in a courtroom.
Some cases, including all cases that use the Collaborative Process, are settled before anyone files any documents with the court. In those cases, you can expect all of the divorce steps listed above, but none of the other divorce steps such as discovery and PDL orders.
Talk to a Collaborative attorney about how to divorce and whether this problem-solving process is a good alternative for you.