How do I start a divorce?
Often one of the questions I get from prospective clients is simply, "How do I start a divorce?" Understanding the process of how a divorce is started and what must be done up front becomes critical to understanding how long things may take, what rights and obligations you have with your spouse, etc. The process itself is scary and daunting, and finding an attorney is hard enough but finding an attorney to handle your divorce that can break down the process is important to your peace of mind, if there ever is such a thing in a divorce, and to your expectations during this process. So, I will attempt to break down a divorce into it's basic parts, which will hopefully give you some clarity as to how this all works.
1. The first part of the divorce process involves finding and meeting with an attorney. This part is often one of the most difficult to do, but is the most basic. Finding the right attorney is important, which means you need to talk with, usually, more than one person. Finding the right personality fit is highly important to how you are going to feel about your case and how things are handled.
2. Pre-Paperwork; information gathering. After you find the right attorney for you, the next step will be to gather information for that person, usually guided through the use of a questionnaire. It is important that the attorney has the necessary information up front to start your case/paperwork, and so that there is not an extensive process of phone calls and emails for missing information. Finding things like deeds for legal descriptions of your real estate, bank statements and pay stubs, tax returns, information on your vehicles, retirement statements, etc. are all things that you will want to get in order. It will save time and money if you can put those items together in an orderly fashion.
3. Paperwork review. After getting the needed information, the attorney will work on assembling the necessary documents to start you divorce, namely the Summons for Dissolution and the Petition for Dissolution. Those are the most important documents that will begin your case. The Petition identifies information about you, your spouse, if you have kids, if there are Orders of Protection of Harassment Orders between you, where you work, information about your assets and debts, and at the end states what you are asking the court to do. After you review and sign them, the attorney will have them served on your spouse. That can be done in many ways according to your situation, and should be discussed with your attorney at the time of signing the paperwork.
4. After service/awaiting the Answer and Counter-Petition. After the documents are served, there is a 30 day period of time for the other side to put together an Answer and Counter-Petition. Basically, they state what they agree with, what they disagree with, and what they don't know from your Petition; and then file their own Petition doing the same things that you did in step 3.
5. Filing. During that time you are waiting for an Answer, or after (up to a year after currently), you will file your paperwork with the court and pay an applicable filing fees. The court will then open your file, assign a judge and set the matter for initial scheduling hearing.
After this process is completed, counties vary in what the next steps are. However, after these steps are completed, your divorce is underway. I would be happy to discuss these steps with you in further detail, and with case specific questions that you may have. Feel free to call or email me at any time.