Although this will try to explain how typical litigation of Dissolution of Marriage (divorce) cases proceed, please understand that each case is unique. Therefore I ask you to see this as an overview and to discuss any aspect of your case which you feel is unique and requires additional discovery or highlighting with your counsel.
Starting the Case
There is no set means of initiating any divorce. In some instances you may just file a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage, have the other party served (handed the papers) by a sheriff or private process server and then they are required within twenty days to take some action with a written filing, Motion or pleading in the Court system.
If they do not, then we may default them which in some instances means they cannot defend their case. However in Dissolution case, the Court is more inclined to permit some testimony at trial from a defaulted party. Sometimes you may wish to mail the Petition and a Marital Settlement Agreement (MSA) to them and ask they respond to me or sign an Acceptance of Service thus avoiding being served which can come at an awkward or inconvenient time. We do not control when they are found or where so receiving the papers is out of our control under regular service.
The MSA is merely a contract between spouses. It can include child issues, alimony if appropriate and the equitable distribution of assets and liabilities. This is discussed below.
If they do respond to the Court either after service of the papers or through signing an Acceptance, then the case proceeds forward. This too can take many different tracks. Normally the parties are required to provide certain information known as “mandatory disclosure” or Rule 12.285. I attached a copy of the Certificate of Compliance with Mandatory Disclosure which must be filed within 45 days of service of the Petition or our Answer. The documents listed in the section entitled “For Initial, Supplemental and Permanent Financial Relief” must be copied and served on the other party within this 45 day time frame. I however ask that my clients provide all the applicable documentation to my office within 2 weeks so that my office may have time to review it and arrange to forward it to the other party. It is not sufficient to say the other party has this information and you are under a duty to get it within the time frame given. I also advise my clients to provide both a copy for me and one for the other side as my office charges 20 cents per page for copies. As always we try to suggest that clients take on as much as they can thus saving them money in what can be a very expensive process.