The Process of Being Divorced
The most difficult part about doing something new to you is that you cannot picture it in steps. Whether it is driving to a new location, going to college, or making a recipe, once you’ve done it a few times, the steps are easy because you can picture them
So, I want you to be able to picture your divorce, to make it a little easier on you.
Picturing the uncontested divorce–the “Part as Friends” divorce
What you should be picturing depends on the type of divorce you have.
An uncontested divorce is where both spouses are in agreement on how to divide everything and both are willing to sign the final papers.
A contested divorce is where either one or the other spouse does not agree to what should be divided and how it should be divided, and either one or both parties are not willing to sign the final papers.
Know that your process of divorce, how it is handled and worked on, will vary based on the place you get your divorce done. Before hiring someone, remember to have the lawyer explain the process, so that you know what it is and can decide whether you like what you hear before paying for it!
Don’t skip over the idea of an uncontested divorce simply because you think that it may not apply to you. Much of this book will explain why it does apply to you, even if you don’t know it yet.
Step 1: The lawyer files the case
Step one is when you open an email from your lawyer. The email asks:
- Your full legal name
- Your date of birth
- Your mailing address
- The last 4 digits of your social security number
- The last 3 digits of your driver’s license number
- Your spouse’s full legal Name
- Your spouse’s date of birth
- Your spouse’s mailing address
- Your spouse’s email address (if you have it)
- The date of marriage
- The date of separation (if you have not separated, it will that days date)
- Does your spouse wish to change his or her last name back to the given last name? What is the given last name?
- The names, genders and birthdays of all minor children born of the marriage (if applicable)
- Is spouse currently pregnant?
- Has the spouse had children with anyone other than their partner DURING the marriage?
- Is either spouse currently going through a bankruptcy?
- What county have you and your spouse lived in for the last 6 months (it is okay if you lived in difference counties, but please tell us where each one has lived)
- Do you presently have any court orders with your current spouse, such as child support orders? (if so, please explain)
- Have we in the past, or do we currently represent your spouse or any of your family members? (please explain)
The email will have a link for you to hire (pay) the lawyer. You will pay them through the link.
Now, you have started your divorce. Your lawyer will file the case with the district clerk, pay your governmental filing fees, and will get a cause number corresponding with your case.
Step 2: You email answers to questions about your assets, kids, & debts
Step two will be receiving an email with a link to more questions. You click on the link and answer these new questions. You can do this with your ex-spouse, or you can do it alone. Remember, your spouse needs to sign the final divorce papers in an uncontested divorce, so both spouses should be taken into account when answering the questions.
These questions are not difficult. They are aimed at figuring out what you want to do with the property you and your spouse acquired during the marriage. You can expect questions like: which bank accounts will your spouse keep after the divorce; which credit cards will he or she keep, and other questions like these.
You will answer the questions and click “submit”. Step two is done.
If you have children, there will be questions about who has certain managing rights of the children. For example, expect questions about what you two have agreed on regarding: Who has the children at what times, what holidays are involved, and how, if any, travel arrangements can be done.
As a parent, this step can be difficult and emotionally challenging – but it doesn’t have to be. Perhaps both you and your spouse will be able to agree to a specific custody arrangement. In a later section, I will be talking about parental rights and what is likely to happen during cases that involve children.
Do not worry about how you will word your requests and plans, as putting this into a legal language is your lawyer’s responsibility. Later in this book, you will find a list of agreements you and your spouse need to come to, in order to have an agreed divorce.
Step 3: The lawyer drafts the divorce papers
The lawyer will draft the legal documents and email them to you. You will go over them on the telephone with your lawyer to make sure that everything is as you want it to be. Ask for changes, as needed.
Step 4: Everyone signs the papers
There is not much to say here. We will send you the finalized draft of your decree with specific instructions on how the decree should be signed.
Step 5: Meet in court
Only one spouse has to go to court for an uncontested divorce. Remember, an uncontested divorce is simply the type of divorce where both parties sign the papers and agree on how to be divorced. The lawyer will lead you through the process at court and get the divorce granted by the judge.
That is the uncontested divorce process. This is the divorce process of parting ways as friends. Now let’s discuss the contested divorce
The ugly things like the hearings, the “you’ve been served,” the thousands of dollars spent and the years of lost time are the things that happen when the parties don’t agree on who gets what accounts, who gets the kids and when, who gets the house and furniture … you get the point. The period in-between filing the case and the final signing of the papers is where the elongated struggle of divorce can occur, depending on what type of divorce you have. This is avoided with an uncontested process. However, divorce is always difficult. Some people who have gone through divorce say the divorce does not start until the papers have been signed and you are single.
You can start this process with Attorney Megan Cook, here.
Picturing the Contested Divorce
Step 1: Strategize with your lawyer
Often you will set up a few in-person meetings with various lawyers. Although you can hire a lawyer without meeting them face-to-face, for the contested divorce it may be better to meet in person. Your investment in this lawyer may be substantial. Whether the meeting is in person or on the telephone, you will discuss what is going on in your life, what your divorce outcome goals may be, and how those goals can be accomplished.
Step 2: File the case
Your lawyer will file the case and have your spouse served.
Unlike an uncontested divorce where your spouse does not need to be served, in a contested divorce, your lawyer will hire a process server to bring the documents to your spouse.
The process server will ensure proper service by knocking on the door of your spouse, and when they answer, the papers are handed to the person. The process server then tells them “You’ve been served” (although stating this is not necessary to effectuate legal service).
From the time that your spouse is served, he or she will have 20 days to file what is called an “answer.” This is a document that tells the court what your response is to the petition for divorce. The response does not need to be detailed. It will be written by your lawyer, and its main function is to ensure that the court cannot do anything in your case without you being notified.
Step 3: Temporary orders, the rules for you and your spouse during the pending divorce
About two weeks after your divorce is filed, you will attend a hearing as mentioned where the judge will order how the parties should maintain their living arrangements, bill paying, and child care during the pending divorce. Not all cases require this hearing, but many contested divorces do.
There is a lot of preparation and strategy that your lawyer will put into this temporary orders hearing. The temporary orders hearing sets up your position for the rest of the case. This part of the divorce can cost thousands of dollars.
One way to save money in a divorce is to see if you and your spouse can avoid the need for temporary orders. The best way to avoid this is for both of you to try to assess what the arrangements were during the marriage, and have an agreement to maintain those arrangements for the next few months while you are getting divorced. If the husband paid the bills during the marriage, he should continue to do so during the pending divorce rather than paying lawyers to have a judge order him to do it.
Step 4: “Discovery”
Discovery is a legal term that means getting all necessary information from both sides, or “discovering” the facts. In this
part of the case, the lawyers gather all of the details about the parties. They will send subpoenas to relevant witnesses, if needed. They will send question lists to the other lawyer that the lawyer is legally obligated to answer. Discovery can be enormously time consuming for law firms because of the many procedural laws involved with answering the questions. This part of the divorce can cost thousands of dollars. Note: I am not putting a specific estimate here because there are so many different types of divorces. Some divorce cases have large estates and will involve much more “discovery” than cases that have fewer assets.
Step 5: Trying to settle
Once all of the facts of the divorce are out, the lawyers will try to negotiate the case to a settlement, using the information gained during discovery. Most often, the case will settle. But, unlike the friendly divorce, the parties have now paid lawyers for strategy time, filing a temporary protective order, preparing temporary orders, attending temporary orders, and conducting discovery. In some cases, this will add up to tens of thousands of dollars. By this point in the case, a person will be fortunate if the legal fees are under 10K per person.
If at any time, during any of these steps, you do not pay your lawyer, they will withdrawal from the case. You will have to hire a new lawyer or represent yourself.
I am not telling you this to stress you out. I am telling you this so you can see the enormous benefits to settling your divorce case early on, even if it takes compromise to do so.
Step 6: The final hearing
Your lawyer will prepare you for the final hearing. The day of the final hearing, you will meet your attorney in court. You will wait to see a judge. You will go to the courtroom and both lawyers will sit at their respective tables. The lawyers will show the court the evidence in the case. How the hearing goes will depend on the judge, and whether this is a jury trial or trial for the judge alone. This process will often be very rushed. The judge or jury will hear the evidence for and against you and will decide on the terms of your final divorce.
It will not be left in your control. To me, this is one of the most pertinent reasons to avoid a contested divorce whenever possible. A judge and/or jury cannot know what your situation is. Listening to your evidence one afternoon, or for a week, does not put them in your shoes. Because no one knows your life like you do, you should maintain control over these significant decisions as much as possible. You can do that by not allowing your case to go to a final hearing — instead, you can make compromises with your spouse to reach a settlement. The sooner you both can settle, the less legal fees you will have to pay.
Step 7: The issues after the final hearing
In movies about divorce, when the divorce is over, the story ends. But in reality, the story has just begun. You may walk out of the courtroom with the outcome you hoped for, thinking it’s finally over. Then, your spouse could decide not to follow through with what was ordered. For example, the day of your hearing, the judge ordered your spouse to drop off your kids at 2:00 p.m. at your home and to transfer 15K into your checking account. Your spouse did neither. You call your lawyer to report what your spouse didn’t do. Your lawyer says that you will have to pay them to set up an enforcement hearing. So, now you are paying your lawyer again, for something you already won. This is extremely common in family law situations and is understandably very frustrating for a divorcing spouse to deal with.
By agreeing with your spouse from the beginning, you completely bypass steps one through seven of the contested divorce, and you can peacefully navigate through the preferred steps of one through five at the beginning, “parting as friends.”