About half the cases we handle are more contested divorces. These are marital dissolution cases in which the litigants don’t expect to reach agreement early and, instead, need the intervention of the court system in order to reach a resolution.
These divorces typically involve four distinct segments.
The first segment of work in a contested case involves the case workup. This is where we put together the initial pleadings in the case and serve and file them. You will complete an initial questionnaire and provide documentation to us so that we can adequately move forward and understand exactly what relief is sought.
Following the service of the summons and petition, we will participate in what’s called an initial case management conference. This is a first meeting with the judge, on an informal basis, to talk about the issues that are in controversy. The court, at that point, might refer the matter for an early neutral evaluation. This is a process where the parties can meet with a court-appointed expert and try to settle the case before becoming too entrenched.
If matters don’t resolve at the early neutral stage, then we move into the next phase – called discovery. This is a process where we’re going to gather information from your spouse. We may do so formally, or informally.
In addition, we may elect to schedule a motion for temporary relief. This is a hearing in which the court will make a determination, on a temporary basis, of who is going to reside in the homestead, who is going to have temporary custody of the children, and what sort of temporary alimony, or child support awards, are appropriate. Quite often cases will settle following the entry of a temporary order, because the parties have a preview into how the judge views the facts of the case.
However, if the case has to continue, we will position your case for the settlement stage. We’re going to attempt to work out matters either through mediation, or some other form of alternative dispute resolution.
If we’re not able to work it out, the court will call us back in, and we will participate in a pre-trial conference, where we’re going to try one last time to get the case settled, with the assistance of the judge.
The fourth phase involves preparation for and actually trying the case. The judge has 90 days to issue a written decision following the end of the trial, and if either party is dissatisfied with the outcome, they have an additional 60 days in which to file an appeal.