Divorce: Where do I Start?
Just the thought of getting divorced can be overwhelming. It has been said that divorce is as or more stressful than even the death of one’s spouse. After years of marriage, it can be difficult to imagine being divorced, let alone how to get the legal process started. This article will briefly outline what should be done before filing divorce and will provide an overview of the divorce process.
Reconsider Reconciliation. As I wrote in my Seven Deadly Sins article http://scoresbyfamilylaw.com/the-seven-deadly-sins-in-divorce/, everyone should genuinely consider reconciliation before determining to divorce. If you have already thought about reconciling, think again. With hard work, forgiveness, and with marriage counseling when appropriate, many marriages can be saved.
Plan and Investigate. When reconciliation fails, you should carefully plan and thoroughly investigate before rushing to file for divorce. If you are not already separated from your spouse, arrange for alternative housing in case you are the one forced to relocate. Consider the lives of those who will be affected by your decision and plan the right time to file. Make sure you have access to funds to pay your bills, including legal expenses. Perhaps most importantly, thoroughly investigate what assets and debts you and your spouse have. Gather your tax returns. Collect bank, investment, and debt account statements. Inventory your property. Prepare to help your attorney get you the best possible outcome.
Hire an Attorney. When I have a problem with my car or my plumbing, I don’t try to fix it myself. I hire an expert. It’s no different with a divorce. If you represent yourself, you’re much more likely to have problems than if you hire a good, experienced attorney. When children, real-estate and retirement plans are involved, it’s especially important to have a lawyer.
Basic Steps in the Legal Process. Not having to navigate the courts and legal process alone is precisely the reason to hire a good lawyer. Although I admit it is a gross over-simplification, following are the basic steps or phases of an Arizona divorce case:
Filing the Case. An Arizona divorce case is opened by filing with the court a petition for dissolution of marriage, along with several other required documents.
Serving the Documents. Only registered process servers or sheriff’s deputies can properly “serve” a petition for dissolution of marriage. If your spouse has had you served with divorce documents, you have twenty days from the date of service to file a “response” to the petition for dissolution.
Gathering Evidence. After the petition has been filed and served and a response filed, both sides must gather their evidence, a process called “discovery.” The evidence to be gathered includes proof of the parties’ incomes and documents establishing the existence and values of all assets and debts. This proof may include tax returns, account statements, inventories, photographs and appraisals. In cases involving children, the discovery process includes gathering evidence about what child custody arrangements are in the children’s best interests.
Attempted Settlement. After the evidence is gathered, the parties are in a position to try to resolve their case by settlement. This may include formal, written settlement proposals, mediation, and/or informal settlement conferences.
Court Trial. When settlement efforts fail, the judge ultimately has to resolve the disputes. Any contested issues are presented to the judge in a court trial, and the judge renders a decision.
Although the divorce process can be stressful and intimidating, you will survive it. Life will go on. If you are facing a divorce, we hope you will consider allowing us here at Scoresby Family Law to assist you.
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