Noel Rivers, Esq. is a compassionate and attentive attorney who can help you navigate the complex laws surrounding divorce, child custody, parenting time, child support, alimony, and asset and liability division.
Divorce is more than just the separation of two people. It often has a profound impact on your children, your assets, your debts, and even your business. Having a competent attorney by your side during a divorce is the best way to ensure a fair outcome to your divorce.
Understanding the contested divorce process:
A contested divorce refers to a divorce where there are significant issues that must be worked out concerning child custody, parenting time, child support, alimony, and/or asset and liability division.
In a contested divorce, one spouse files a Complaint for Divorce and serves it on the other spouse who must file an Answer to the Complaint for Divorce. Once both the Complaint and Answer have been filed, the Court will schedule a Case Management Conference. Both spouses and their respective counsel must attend the Case Management Conference. This is a formal hearing before the judge who will preside over your case. At the conference, the judge will introduce himself or herself to the parties and explain the typical process of a divorce.
The judge will also set a schedule that the parties must follow to move the case along. This is called a Civil Case Management Order. The Civil Case Management Order will set the dates by which certain things must be done. For example, it will set the number of days the parties will have to engage in discovery. Discovery is a pre-trial procedure. Think of discovery as an investigation or fact-finding mission. Discovery involves things such as Interrogatories (list of questions for your spouse to answer), Notice to Produce (list of documents to provide), and depositions (questioning witnesses under oath), to name a few.
The parties will have ample opportunities to settle the terms of their divorce prior to trial. Some of those opportunities are:
Parenting time mediation- this mediation takes place at the courthouse with a volunteer mediator. If affords both parties the chance to settle issues surrounding custody and visitation. There is no charge for this mediation service. Not all cases are suitable for parenting time mediation. For example, if there is an active domestic violence restraining order between the parties or an active child welfare agency involvement, the case will not be accepted for mediation.
Early Settlement Panel- at an Early Settlement Panel (ESP), the parties and their respective counsel attend a meeting at the courthouse before a panel of volunteer attorneys who have significant family law experience. Each attorney prepares a statement of proposed settlement terms to the panel in advance of the meeting. The panel reviews the settlement proposals and then advises the parties of the likely outcome of the terms of the divorce in the event the parties proceeded to trial. The parties are provided an opportunity to defend their positions or participate in settlement negotiations. Should the parties reach an agreement, the terms are memorialized. The parties would then appear before the judge in a final hearing to have their divorce entered.
Economic Mediation- if the ESP was not successful, the court will order the parties to attend economic mediation. The judge may appoint an economic mediator or the attorneys can agree on a mediator together. The first two hours of mediation are free, however, the first hour is used by the mediator to review the mediation statements provided by the attorneys. If the parties come to an agreement in mediation, the mediator will memorialize the terms of the agreement. The parties would then appear before the judge in a final hearing to have their divorce entered.
If you are unable to settle the terms of your divorce, you will have to have a trial. At a trial, each attorney will make arguments supporting the proposed outcome of the divorce but ultimately, the judge will decide the terms of your divorce. Given the many opportunities provided to parties to settle prior to trial, the vast majority of divorces settle.
Contact Rivers Law Firm LLC for a free 30-minute phone consultation to discuss your family law matter.