10 STEPS FOR GETTING A DIVORCE OR LEGAL SEPARATION
1. Decide on a joint petition or not. A joint petition for divorce means that you and your spouse will complete the Petition together.
If you do not file the Petition jointly, then only one spouse completes the petition and files it. The advantage of a joint petition is that the filing fee is shared and each spouse knows what is happening. The disadvantage of one spouse filing the Petition is that the filing spouse pays the filing fee and the respondent (the spouse who is not filing the Petition) is not aware of what is going on.
2. File the summons and petition or joint petition with the Clerk of Circuit Court in the county where you reside.
This filing of the petition starts the action and timeframe for when you can receive a judgment of divorce or legal separation.
3. Request a Temporary Hearing if you need it.
A temporary hearing occurs before the Family Court Commissioner and is designed to address the issues of child custody, child placement, child support, use of the family residence, use of automobiles or other personal property, payment of bills and payment of maintenance or spousal support. I recommend requesting a temporary hearing in almost every case. Emotions are high in divorce and spouses do things to each other all the time that may have a negative impact on the marital estate or the children. A temporary hearing guarantees that you will get some orders protecting the marital estate and your children.
4. Request a date and time for a pretrial conference.
At the time of filing the petition make sure that the Clerk of Circuit Court assigns you a court date for a pretrial conference with a circuit court judge. At a pretrial conference the court will pick a date for a final divorce hearing. If a date is not assigned you have no end to work toward and your case will very slowly progress. Although there are some judicial systems to make sure that cases are adequately addressed and closed, there really is no monitoring of your case. The best practice is to request a pretrial conference date to make sure the case is progressing.
5. Serve the other spouse with the summons and petition and all the other necessary forms that are required.
A qualified attorney can tell you the exact forms that need to be served and how to serve the forms. Once the other spouse is served, proof of service must be filed with the Clerk of Circuit Court. If you fail to serve the other spouse, that spouse is lacking “notice” of the proceedings and as a result you will not be able to obtain a judgment.
6. Attend a Temporary Order Hearing.
When you request a temporary hearing you will be given a date and time to appear before a family court commissioner.
At the hearing you can provide evidence in support of your position to obtain orders protecting the marital estate and your children. Often times two spouses will agree on temporary matters and the family court commissioner will accept the agreement if it is fair and equitable to the parties and if it serves the best interests of the children. If spouses do not have an agreement, an evidentiary hearing will be held and orders will be made by the family court commissioner. Parties need to prepare for this hearing as any order made will impact you for the foreseeable future. All too often a party assumes they can walk into the courtroom and simply explain their position. It is much more than that and you have to be prepared. If you fail to do so, a party is often times left feeling disappointed with the outcome.
7. If the parties have children make sure to attend any required parenting programs and complete and file a parenting plan.
The Clerk of Circuit Court, at the time of filing the petition, will give information on whether the parties need to attend a parenting program. The filing party will be given the information and is required to serve the opposing spouse with the parenting program information. A parenting plan is critical to the process and it must be filed or there could be significant consequences, such as losing the ability to object to the other spouse’s parenting plan. For more analysis on parenting plans please see my earlier blog entry:
8. Complete paperwork and file it prior to the final hearing.
This includes a marital settlement agreement, a financial disclosure statement, vital statistics form and the findings of fact, conclusions of law and judgment of divorce. Anyone of the attorneys at
can help you with the forms and explain them to you.
9. Attend the final hearing.
This is an evidentiary hearing where you must present your case to the court official, whether there is an agreement or not. If there is no agreement, there is a substantial amount of information that must be provided to the Court in order for you to achieve your desired outcome.
10. Tie up loose ends.
After the judgment is granted steps may need to be taken to divide retirement accounts and bank accounts. You may need to prepare and sign deeds to transfer real estate. Essentially, title to property has to be properly assigned and transferred. This can be cumbersome and many times spouses are simply relieved “to be done” with the court process. I call this the extra mile. Finish the race and cross the line by seeing through the completion of these items. If you fail to do so, you never actually cross the finish line and you will not experience the medal. If you fail to finish in divorce or legal separation you may find out later that you do not have ownership of funds or real estate. Make sure that a qualified attorney helps you all the way through the end.