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Understanding Divorce

Divorce is a complex and emotionally charged process that requires careful navigation. Having a skilled divorce attorney by your side can significantly impact the outcome, especially in situations that are contentious or highly volatile. 

Regardless of complexity, almost every divorce starts and ends in the same way:

  1. Divorce papers are served;
  2. The parties attempt to reach an agreement;
  3. If no agreement is reached, the parties go to trial; and
  4. After concluding an agreement or a trial, the court finalizes the divorce. 

At Vista Family Law we do everything we can to make this process as smooth as possible for you. 

Here we will provide you with an overview to help you better understand the divorce process and how Vista Family Law can help.

Navigating the Divorce Process

Step 1 – Initiating the Divorce Process:

Filing for divorce begins with submitting a Petition for Dissolution to the appropriate court. The Petition for Dissolution outlines the specific issues that may be involved in the divorce case. These issues often include the division of assets and debts, determination of spousal and child support, allocation of decision-making responsibilities, parenting time arrangements, and considerations regarding attorney fees.  

You must properly serve the Petition for Dissolution on the other party. There are specific laws that govern how the Petition for Dissolution must be served to your spouse. It is very important to make sure that your spouse is properly served, since the countdown on your divorce does not start until your spouse has been properly served and certain legal restrictions on how your spouse can spend money or modify finances do not activate until service is complete. We work with professionals who will ensure that your spouse is served the Petition for Dissolution promptly and in compliance with the law. 

 Once your spouse has been served with a Petition for Dissolution, they can file a response, called the Answer, within a limited period. The Answer is usually brief, admitting or denying each assertion in the Petition for Dissolution. This initial step sets the legal proceedings in motion and establishes the framework for addressing various issues related to the dissolution of marriage.

Step 2 – Temporary Motions: 

What if the divorcing parties can’t live in the same house peacefully anymore? What if the other party stops depositing their paycheck into a joint account? Or what if one of the parties tries to deny the other party access to their children? These are issues that need to be addressed now! If you and your spouse are unable to resolve these issues on their own, then you may file motions for temporary orders to address such issues promptly before the court. 

After filing a motion for temporary orders, the court may schedule a temporary orders hearing to provide temporary resolutions until a final agreement is reached. Note that some states require the divorcing parties to participate in mandatory mediation before proceeding with temporary orders hearings. This mediation process aims to facilitate communication and negotiation between the parties, with the goal of reaching mutually acceptable agreements outside of court.

Step 3 – Discovery:

The discovery process in divorce proceedings is a crucial phase that allows you and your spouse to gather information and evidence relevant to the case. During discovery, various methods are used to obtain this information, including interrogatories, requests for production of documents, depositions, and subpoenas: 

  • Interrogatories involve written questions that each party must answer under oath, providing insight into their financial status, assets, and other pertinent matters. 
  • Requests for production of documents allow parties to request specific documents, such as financial records, tax returns, and property deeds, which can be crucial in determining asset division and spousal support. 
  • Depositions involve oral testimony given under oath, providing an opportunity for attorneys to question witnesses, including the spouses themselves and other relevant individuals.
  •  Subpoenas are court orders that compel the production of documents or the testimony of witnesses who may have relevant information.

Throughout the discovery process, both parties may exchange information and gather evidence to support their respective positions. This phase is critical in ensuring transparency and fairness in divorce proceedings, as it allows you and your spouse to obtain a comprehensive understanding of each other’s financial situation, assets, and liabilities. By uncovering relevant information through discovery, you and your spouse can make informed decisions and negotiate settlements that are equitable and in the best interests of all involved.

Step 4 – Settlement:

It is common for divorce cases to settle before going to trial. A reasonable settlement agreement may allow you and your spouse more control over your future. Many divorcing couples prefer settlements to avoid the anxiety of betting it all on a judge’s decision.

Additionally, agreeing on a settlement may save you and your spouse considerable time and money. You may wait a year for your trial, but meanwhile, both you and your spouse’s attorneys’ fees will continue to climb. 

Step 5 – Pre-Trial Conferences:

In many states, before trial, the divorcing couple must attend at least one mandatory settlement conference, also called a divorce pretrial conference. These conferences require the attorneys for both parties to discuss the merits of the case, with the benefit of input from the judge.

Often, it is during pretrial conferences that both sides fully realize the emotional and financial cost of going to trial. Afterward, they may be open to negotiating further in order to avoid trial.

After hearing an overview of the facts, judges in some states may offer their opinion of the facts and offer suggestions on a possible settlement.

Step 6: The Divorce Trial:

Although studies show that less than 5% of all divorces go to trial, this figure varies substantially according to certain factors, including salary level of the parties, the length of their marriage, and whether the couple have children.  If your divorce does go to trial, then the length of your trial will depend on the time the court allocates and the number and complexity of issues to be decided. Your trial could last anywhere from a few hours to a few weeks.

Step 7 – Finalizing the Divorce:

The judge reviews any settlement agreements reached between you and your spouse or, if you could not settle and instead went to trial, the judge will make determinations on the issues in the divorce case. Ultimately, the court issues a divorce decree, formally terminating the marriage and resolving the legal aspects of the divorce.

Key Determinations during a Divorce Consultation

The attorneys at Vista Family Law will walk you through each of the following issues to gain a deep understanding of your divorce case. 

1st Issue – Contested vs. Uncontested Divorces

The first issue we will discuss is whether your divorce is likely to be contested or uncontested. In an uncontested divorce, both parties agree on all aspects of the divorce process, including asset division, child custody arrangements, and spousal support. Uncontested divorces typically proceed more smoothly and can be resolved faster and cheaper than a contested divorce.

However, if there are disputes regarding any aspect of your divorce, then we are dealing with a contested divorce. It is crucial to address these conflicts thoroughly in the divorce papers. Failing to do so may limit the court’s ability to grant desired outcomes.

2nd Issue – Does your Divorce Involve Children?

The second issue we will discuss is whether your divorce involves children. Custody disputes generally require you and your spouse to agree on the answers to the following questions, or else have the court answer the questions for you:

Will one parent acquire sole custody, or will the parents share joint custody?

Which parent receives child support and provides health care coverage?

How much parenting time will each parent receive? 

Prior to filing for divorce, it is essential for you have a clear understanding of how these issues will be addressed and to seek legal advice to ensure that the court makes custody determinations that are in the best interests of the children involved.

3rd Issue – Whether to Request Temporary Orders

The third issue we will discuss is whether you need to file any motions for temporary orders. Issues such as financial support, living arrangements, and temporary restraining orders may be urgent and require prompt court intervention. For example, what if your spouse has started moving money out of your joint bank account to a separate account outside of your control? If you are facing such issues, then it is crucial for you to schedule a temporary orders hearing as soon as possible after filing the divorce paperwork.

4th Issue – Property and Debt Division:

The fourth issue we will discuss is how to develop an overview of the property and debts accumulated during the marriage. It is essential that you have a comprehensive understanding of all assets and debts within the marriage, including real estate, retirement accounts, inheritance, and liabilities such as credit card debt and mortgage loans.

Proposing a fair and equitable division of these assets and debts in the divorce filings is crucial, as court-awarded divisions are typically final and may not be subject to reconsideration.

5th Issue – Spousal Support Considerations

The fifth issue discussed during a consultation with Vista Family Law is to determine whether spousal support is applicable to your case. The issue of spousal support, also known as alimony, may arise in certain divorce cases. Spousal support awards are determined by various factors, including the income of the parties, the duration of the marriage, and the standard of living established during the marriage.

There are different types of spousal support that may be awarded, including transitional support to assist with the transition to single life, compensatory support to compensate one spouse for sacrifices made during the marriage, and maintenance support to provide ongoing financial assistance.

How Can We Help?

Navigating the divorce process can be challenging, but with the guidance and support of the experienced lawyers of Vista Family Law, you can navigate the process with confidence. Our team is dedicated to providing vigorous support and strategic solutions to help you achieve a favorable resolution to your divorce proceedings. From the initial filing to the final divorce decree, we are committed to protecting your rights and ensuring that your interests are represented effectively.


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