You know that you want to file for a divorce, and you also know that the process can be a long and tedious one, based on, well, everything you’ve heard about divorce in the past. But you have no idea where to begin, or what to expect along the way as you’re going through your divorce. This article will break it down for you into bite-sized pieces so that you won’t feel so lost as you encounter each of the following steps for yourself.
First: File a Divorce Complaint
To begin your divorce process, either you or your spouse must file a divorce complaint with the court. This person will be named the Plaintiff. To answer the question you’re thinking, no it does not matter who filed first and it does not matter who is Plaintiff and who is Defendant. The divorce complaint will need to include both the names and addresses of both spouses, the date and the location of your marriage, other various details, as well as the relief you are requesting from the Court.
Second: Appearance/Answer & Counterclaim
The person who is served with the filed divorce complaint must respond to it within 35 days, especially if that spouse wants any of his or her issues to be heard. The spouse receiving the divorce complaint will be named the defendant. The response may either include the filing of a general appearance or an answer and counterclaim, which is a response to the complaint, along with a request for relief against the plaintiff. If the defendant does not comply and chooses not to respond to the complaint, a separate procedure, a request for default, will be the next step.
Third: Filing a Case Information Statement
Once the defendant responds to the divorce complaint, the next step is for each spouse to file a Case Information Statement (also referred to as a CIS). The CIS is the most important document (in addition to the Settlement Agreement) and will include most of the financial information about each party that will be relevant to all the financial issues in the case. This includes financial support as well as equitable distribution.
Fourth: Settlement Agreement or Early Settlement Panel
Both parties, with the assistance of their attorneys, should try to reach a settlement agreement after the filing of the divorce complaint. However, if a settlement cannot be reached, the parties will need to participate in what is called an Early Settlement Panel (also referred to as ESP). At ESP, the attorneys will present the financial issues in your case to a two-person panel of family law attorneys volunteering their time. The panelists will make a recommendation for how to come to a resolution for said issues. If both parties accept the recommendations, they can be divorced that day. If both parties do not accept the recommendations or form an agreement, the two parties will need to move on to the next step.
Fifth: Economic Mediation
If neither you nor your spouse accept the recommendations of the Early Settlement Panel, you will need to participate in what is called Economic Mediation to try to come to an agreement once more. Here another family lawyer attempts to help both parties reach a resolution. If you still cannot come to an agreement, the parties must move onto the sixth step.
Sixth: An Intensive Settlement Conference
If Economic Mediation did not work, the two spouses must attend an Intensive Settlement Conference (also referred to as ISC) that takes place in a courthouse to try one last time to settle. It should be noted that not all counties offer ISC. If this does not happen, you will finally need to take your case to trial.