DIVORCE & CUSTODY----WHAT TO EXPECT
Courts have basically two considerations: to protect children, and to arrive at equitable settlements based upon the contributions of each party.
Don't assume that your outcome will be the same as a friend with a similar situation. The state provides some guidelines, but your result depends to a great extent on the skill of your lawyer, and upon which judge hears your case.
If you come to an informed settlement, that is the best course of action. However, sometimes a spouse is unaware of savings, investments, debts or other issues that can cause them to make poor settlements. This is where the help of a good lawyer can make all the difference.
Here is a brief outline of the steps involved in a typical case:
- You hire an attorney and make a deposit to a trust account in your name to pay filing fees and costs associated with your case. You will likely be billed monthly. Payment options will be agreed upon in advance.
- One party files a Petition for Dissolution; the other party replies.
- Both parties must provide information relating to all assets, liabilities and income.
- When all the information is gathered, each attorney will attempt to negotiate a settlement based on the wishes of their clients.
- The court may order one party to provide support for the other.
- Where minor children are involved, the court may decide where the children will live temporarily, who will provide support and in what amount.
- If custody will be an issue, documents may be filed with the Court requiring the services of a custody evaluator, drug testing or therapy sessions. Parents are required to attend a Focus on Children seminar.
- If a settlement cannot be reached the lawyers will begin to prepare for trial to bring the case to conclusion between 3 - 6 months.
- Depositions may be taken of one or both parties. The lawyers will ask specific questions and responses under oath will be recorded. The information given will be used if the case goes to trial. Because the depositions help identify the key issues, it is often possible to settle a case at this point.
- If the case cannot be settled, it is scheduled for trial. Witnesses may be required to appear. These witnesses may include experts such as custody evaluators, appraisers, accountants or financial planners.
- At the conclusion of the trial, the Judge may rule from the bench or take the case under consideration. Generally, a decision is issued within two weeks and a formal Judgment of Dissolution is filed.
Please be aware that circumstances change. Custody, visitation and support are often modified when circumstances changes. It is always in your best interest to be polite and considerate of the other party to avoid unnecessary conflicts now and in the future.
IF YOU ARE CONSIDERING DIVORCE OR SEPARATION
DON"T try to negotiate with your spouse until you have complete information and understand your rights.
Many clients are intimidated by their spouses. Sometimes the wage-earner hides resources. Attorneys can force disclosure and protect your interests.
DON'T tell your spouse, or anyone else, about your intentions until you have taken steps to protect yourself.
Think ahead about your housing, transportation, insurance and child-care needs. Do not assume your spouse will be cooperative. If the other party petitions the court to have you removed from the house, where will you go?
DON'T involve your children in the dispute.
Divorce is hard on children. It is up to you to assure them that both parents care about their welfare. If custody becomes an issue, child custody evaluators may be used to assess the parenting skills of both parents. A parent who belittles the other parent weakens their own case.
DON'T enter into another romantic relationship.
Particularly if custody is an issue, you would be well advised to postpone involvement until after your divorce is final. It is not unusual for custody and visitation to be altered, so you should always conduct yourself in a responsible manner.
DO make copies of all documents pertaining to your income, assets and debts.
If you had premarital assets, you will have to prove the source and amount. Make note of all bank accounts. Photocopy tax statements.
DO set aside funds to sustain yourself, and establish credit in your own name.
DO tell your attorney the full truth.
No matter how embarrassed you may feel, your attorney is accustomed to dealing with people who have problems. Your result will be much better if you disclose everything up front.
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