Although divorce is common throughout the United States, the divorce process varies depending on the couple’s situation. Short-term marriages without children or property typically result in a less complex and time-consuming divorce than long-term marriages with significant property entanglements, marital debt, and minor children. Additionally, divorcing couples who work together to negotiate the terms of the divorce (child custody, child support, property division, debt allocation, and spousal support) will experience a less expensive and less stressful divorce than couples who can’t agree or refuse to work together.
Filing the Divorce Petition
Whether both spouses agree to the divorce or not, before any couple can begin the divorce process, one spouse must file a legal petition asking the court to terminate the marriage. The filing spouse must include the following information:
• a statement which informs the court that at least one spouse meets the state’s residency requirements for divorce
• a legal reason—or grounds—for the divorce, and
• any other statutory information that your state requires.
Residency requirements vary depending on where you live. States usually require at least one spouse to live in the state anywhere from 3 months to 12 months, and in the county where the spouse files at least 10 days to 6 months before filing the petition. Divorcing spouses must meet the state’s residency requirement before the court can accept the case. Grounds for divorce vary from state-to-state. However, all states offer divorcing couples the option to file a no-fault divorce. No-fault divorce is a streamlined process that allows spouses to file a divorce petition without listing a specific reason or placing blame on either spouse. If your spouse committed marital misconduct or caused the breakup, some states allow parties to claim fault for the divorce, like adultery or neglect. If you’re unsure whether you should file a no-fault or fault divorce, contact an experienced family law attorney in your state for guidance.
Moving The Court for Temporary Orders
Courts understand that the waiting period for divorce may not be possible for all couples. For example, if you are a stay-at-home parent that is raising your children and dependent on your spouse for financial support, waiting for 6-months for the judge to finalize your divorce probably seems impossible. When you file for divorce, the court allows you to ask the court for temporary court orders for child custody, child support, and spousal support. If you request a temporary order, the court will hold a hearing and request information from each spouse before deciding how to rule on the application. The judge will usually grant the temporary order quickly, and it will remain valid until the court orders otherwise or until the judge finalizes the divorce. Other temporary orders may include a request for status quo payments or temporary property restraining orders. Status quo orders typically require the breadwinner to continue paying marital debts throughout the divorce process. Temporary property restraining orders protect the marital estate from either spouse selling, giving away, or otherwise disposing of marital property during the divorce process. Restraining orders are usually mutual, meaning both spouses must follow it or risk being penalized by the court. If you need a temporary order but didn’t file your request at the time you filed for divorce, you’ll need to apply for temporary orders as quickly as possible. When you file for divorce, the court allows you to ask the court for temporary court orders for child custody, child support, and spousal support.
Serve Your Spouse and Wait for a Response
After you file the petition for divorce and request for temporary orders, you need to provide a copy of the paperwork to your spouse and file proof of service with the court. Proof of service is a document that tells the court that you met the statutory requirements for giving a copy of the petition to your spouse. If you don’t properly serve your spouse, or if you neglect to file a proof of service with the court, the judge will be unable to proceed with your divorce case. Service of process can be easy, especially if your spouse agrees with the divorce and is willing to sign an acknowledgment of service. However, some spouses, especially ones that want to stay married or make the process complicated, can be evasive or try anything to frustrate the process. The easiest way to ensure proper service is for the filing spouse to hire a professional who is licensed and experienced in delivering legal documents to difficult parties. The cost is usually minimal and can help prevent a delay in your case. If your spouse retained an attorney, you could arrange to have the paperwork delivered to the attorney’s office.
The party who receives the paperwork (usually titled “defendant” or “respondent”) must file an answer or reply to the divorce petition within a prescribed amount of time. Failure to respond could result in a “default” judgment against the non-responding spouse, which can be complicated and expensive to reverse. The responding party has the option to dispute the grounds for divorce (if a fault divorce), the allegations in the petition, or assert any disagreements as to property, support, custody, or any other divorce-related issues.
Mediation to Negotiate a Settlement
In cases where the parties have differing opinions on important topics, like child custody, support, or property division, both spouses will need to work together to reach an agreement. Sometimes the court will schedule a settlement conference, which is where the parties and their attorneys will meet to discuss the status of the case. The court may schedule mediation, which is where a neutral third-party will help facilitate discussion between the spouses in hopes to resolve lingering issues. Some states require participation in mediation, while others do not. However, mediation often saves significant time and money during the divorce process, so it’s often a good route for many divorcing couples.
Sometimes negotiations fail despite each spouse’s best efforts. If there are still issues that remain unresolved after mediation and other talks, the parties will need to ask the court for help, which means going to trial. A divorce trial is costly and time-consuming, plus it takes all the power away from the spouses and puts it in the hands of the judge. Negotiations and mediation sessions allow the couple to maintain control and have more predictable results than a divorce trial, so it’s best to avoid a trial if possible.
Finalizing the Judgment
Whether you and your spouse negotiated throughout the divorce process, or a judge decided the significant issues for you, the final step of divorce comes when the judge signs the judgment of divorce. The judgment of divorce (or “order of dissolution”) ends the marriage and spells out the specifics about how the couple will allocate custodial responsibility and parenting time, child and spousal support, and how the couple will divide assets and debts. If the parties negotiated a settlement, the filing spouse’s attorney typically drafts the judgment. However, if the couple went through a divorce trial, the judge will issue the final order.
In many states, an expedited divorce procedure is available to couples who haven’t been married for very long (usually five years or less), don’t own much property, don’t have children, and don’t have significant joint debts. Both spouses need to agree to the divorce, and must file court papers jointly. A summary (sometimes called “simplified”) divorce involves a lot less paperwork than other types of divorce; a few forms are often all it takes. For this reason, summary divorces are easy to do without the help of a lawyer.
In terms of dealing with the court process, the path that normally generates the least amount of stress is an uncontested divorce. That’s one in which you and your spouse settle up-front all your differences on issues such as custody and visitation (parenting time), child support, alimony, and division of property. You’ll then incorporate the terms of your settlement in a written “property settlement agreement” (sometimes called a “separation agreement”). Once your case is settled, you can file for divorce with the court. Courts almost invariably fast-track these types of cases, so you can get divorced in a relatively short period of time. In some states, you may not even have to make a court appearance, but rather can file an affidavit (sworn statement) with the court clerk.
A default divorce occurs when you’ve filed for divorce, and your spouse doesn’t respond. You’d likely see this, for example, if your spouse has left for parts unknown and can’t be found. Assuming you’ve complied with the court’s rules and regulations, a judge can grant the divorce despite the fact your spouse hasn’t participated in the court proceedings. On its face, this may seem like the ideal situation. No one is there to contest what you’re asking the court to give you. But be aware that there are pro and cons to a default divorce.
If you and your spouse are at loggerheads over one or more marital issues, to the point that you can’t come to an agreement, then it will be up to a judge to decide those issues for you. This is what’s meant by a contested divorce. Contested divorces are stressful, time-consuming, and expensive (think mounting attorneys’ fees). You’ll go through a lengthy process of exchanging financial and other relevant information, mandatory settlement negotiations, and court hearings for temporary relief, such as interim alimony, for example, if warranted. And if you can’t resolve the case after all that, there will be a court trial. The burdens of a contested divorce are why the vast majority of divorce cases ultimately settle at some point before trial.
Fault and No-Fault Divorce
This refers to the grounds (reasons) on which you’re basing the divorce. Your state’s laws will set out the permissible grounds for divorce. In the not-too-distant past, people who wanted to dissolve their marriage had to show that the other spouse was guilty of wrongdoing, such as adultery or cruelty. Needless to say, accusing your spouse of misconduct could make for quite a contentious divorce. Now, however, all states offer some form of “no-fault” divorce. In a no-fault divorce, instead of proving that a spouse is to blame for the marriage failing, you merely state that you and your spouse have “irreconcilable differences,” or have suffered an “irremediable breakdown” of your relationship.
Before filing for divorce, options are available to you if you need assistance in trying to resolve your differences. These are referred to as “alternative dispute resolution” (ADR) methods. One of those is divorce mediation. Here, a trained neutral third party (the mediator), sits down with you and your spouse to try to help you resolve all of the issues in your divorce. It’s not the mediator’s job to make decisions for you. Rather, mediators offer guidance and help you communicate with each other until; hopefully, you reach a meeting of the minds. A successful mediation usually ends with the preparation of a property settlement agreement.
Another ADR option is “collaborative divorce”. This entails working with lawyers who are specially trained in this method of settling divorces. The spouses hire their own lawyers, each of whom is obligated to work cooperatively, with the sole purpose of trying to settle your case. Each spouse agrees to disclose all the information that’s necessary for fair negotiations, and to meet with each other and both lawyers, as often as necessary, to attempt to reach a settlement. You all must agree that if your divorce doesn’t settle through the collaborative process, your original attorneys will withdraw and you’ll have to hire different attorneys to take your case to court. This is done to ensure that all participants, including the attorneys, are acting in good faith, with nothing to gain from veering away from the goal of settlement.
In states that allow it, a third form of ADR is “divorce arbitration”. This option is the most similar to a trial, because the arbitrator (usually an attorney or a retired judge) will make a decision on your marital issues, after being presented with the facts of your case and reviewing the documentation you would ordinarily produce at trial. The benefits of arbitration are that it’s typically conducted in an informal and thus less intimidating setting than a courthouse (usually the arbitrator’s office) and, as with the other forms of ADR, allows you the flexibility of picking meeting times that fit your schedules. This makes it more cost-effective than having to make court appearances, which often involve sitting around racking up attorneys’ fees while waiting for a judge to become available.
Utah Divorce Lawyer
When you need to get divorced in Utah, please call Ascent Law LLC for your free consultation (801) 676-5506. We want to help you.
8833 S. Redwood Road, Suite C
West Jordan, Utah
84088 United States
Telephone: (801) 676-5506