Filing the Intial Divorce Proceedings
- When a spouse determines that a marriage cannot be fixed and wishes to file for divorce, a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage needs to be filed with the local court clerk. The spouse bringing forth divorce proceedings is known as the "petitioner," while the other spouse is known as the "respondent." The petitioner must state a reason as to the divorce, and must serve the respondent with a copy of the petition.
Divorces are never easy, and many other factors can draw the process out much further. Divorces involving children open up issues involving custody and child support. Likewise, if a spouse is seeking alimony (now typically called spousal support) the next process, discovery, is much more complex.
Responding to the Petition and Discovery
- After the petition is filed, the respondent typically has 30 days (but this varies from state-to-state) to respond to the petition or face contempt of court charges. In order to answer the petition, the respondent must answer a series of discovery questions. The discovery process is a legal way to gather information from the opposing party. Discovery questions include: requests for admission to either deny or affirm an allegation, requests for production where a party may have to produce financial records or other pertinent documentation and basic interrogatory questions pertinent to resolving the issue.
The respondent must answer and produce all the required information in a timely manner. The respondent may also include his own set of discovery questions. After each party is allowed to gather discovery information, typically a form of mediation will occur. During the mediation process, lawyers and/or mediators and the parties will try to come to an agreement regarding the couple's property, children and future spousal support. If parties stipulate an agreement, a final decree can be offered to the court and the couple can officially be divorced. However, many times couples cannot come to an agreement via the mediation process, and a trial in family court will occur. Once a final decree has been issued and recorded with the court clerk, the divorce is final.
Mandatory Waiting Period
- Some states have laws on how long a couple must wait between the time they file for divorce and when a final decree for dissolution of marriage can be issued. In Maryland, a married couple must wait approximately one year after the initial petition for dissolution is filed before a final decree can be issued. These laws are enacted for the purpose of allowing the couple to reconcile their problems and to preserve the sanctity of marriage.
Divorces can be expensive, especially if a party is seeking spousal support and full custody of any children. Massive amounts of paperwork are involved with the discovery process. Thus, while a simple divorce with agreeing couples can be filed without the help of an attorney, it is wise for both parties to retain an attorney to allow the process to run smoother.