What to Expect at Your Divorce Court Hearing
If you have recently filed for divorce or been served with divorce papers from your current spouse, you may be wondering what to expect at your first divorce court hearing. First, you must remember that the divorce process takes time, and you will have plenty of opportunity to argue any claims your spouse has made, as well as pursue alternative mediation versus subjecting yourselves to a formal court hearing. Following is a discussion on the general divorce process and what one might expect at this hearing:
The Petition for Divorce
Divorce proceedings begin with one spouse (the petitioner) serving what is called either a “Petition for Divorce” or “Letter of Complaint” on the other (the respondent), depending upon the state the divorce takes place in. This petition outlines the reasons for the filing, which may state the divorce is due to a specific fault of the respondent.
Once the respondent receives the petition, he or she typically has a limited time (usually a month or so) to hire legal representation and respond. If there is no response, the divorce court will assume it is uncontested. However, any response may include requests for restraining orders or temporary custody rights while waiting for a divorce court hearing.
Orders Prior to the Final Hearing
Before attending the final divorce hearing, issues like child support and alimony, visitation and custody rights, as well as required separation periods may be temporarily ordered. In addition, property such as vehicles or primary and secondary residences may be determined in this time.
While waiting for the final divorce court hearing, you and your attorney should be gathering evidence to prove your stance in the case. Witness statements and depositions may be gathered, in addition to important paperwork or police reports that serve to represent the other party’s character.
Alternatives to a Formal Court Hearing
Many states will require a couple to attempt mediation, also known as “alternative dispute resolution,” or ADR. If the couple cannot agree or come to terms regarding the issues at hand, then a divorce court hearing will be scheduled.
Final Divorce Court Hearings
If issues still exist after attempting any mediation or other required alternatives, a final court hearing will be scheduled to allow each party argue his or her case. All evidence that has been gathered and necessary witnesses will be called to testify, and the judge will base his or her final decisions regarding property and agreements based on this information. Sometimes, if there are several issues to be resolved because of extensive marital property holdings and children involved, a series of court hearings may be scheduled to handle each individual issue separately.
After the judge determines the final arrangements, these will be explicitly outlined in a final divorce decree. The judge and each party involved in the divorce will sign this decree, which is then filed with the corresponding county government.
Uncontested Divorces and Special Situations
If your divorce is a no-fault divorce or considered uncontested, your hearing should be rather quick and painless. Character witnesses will not be required, and you may even be able to represent yourself without hiring an attorney. This is especially true if you have not been married very long and don’t own very much marital property together.
Just as with any other legal case, you also have the option to appeal a judge’s final decision in a divorce. Of course, the court may deny this type of motion, which will require you to file your appeal with a state-level court.
The process of requesting and obtaining a divorce will differ depending upon the state and locale you are located in, but generally every petition will require either mediation or at least one divorce court hearing. It is vitally important that you retain the proper representation if any aspect of your divorce is contested or you will be fighting for property and custody rights. However, with the correct preparation and detailed information that a qualified attorney will gather, your divorce court hearing should result in a fair and agreeable final divorce decree.
Information on State-Specific Divorce Requirements and Proceedings: