From gathering and evaluating data to settlement.
To better understand the divorce proceeding process, there are typically four key steps to bringing a case to conclusion. These steps are important as you interview and consider hiring a divorce attorney.
Bringing a case to conclusion. Divorce proceedings can be grouped or divided into certain elements or stages:
1. Data gathering
2. Categorizing data
3. Evaluating data
4. Settlement negotiations or trial
First, your attorney will gather data from both you and your spouse. Data gathering from your spouse is done in several ways. Your attorney is entitled to have your spouse produce documents for inspection. Your spouse may be required to answer questions (“interrogatories”) in writing, under oath. Your spouse may also be required to appear at a discovery deposition in your attorney’s law office. At a discovery deposition, your spouse is required to answer questions under oath.
Your attorney can also subpoena data from other entities, such as employers, banks and credit card companies.
After the initial information and data has been received, it is then categorized according to subject matter.
Next, your attorney will evaluate the data. As to some assets, the evaluation will involve obtaining an appraisal of the asset so your attorney can determine its value. In all cases when property is involved, the marital home and marital property will require some form of evaluation.
Once the evaluation process is completed, your attorney usually produces a memo that will list all assets, debts, and income. A copy of this memo is sent to you, and the next step will be to discuss settlement to options.
Once you and your attorney have arrived at a settlement position, your attorney will attempt to negotiate a settlement with the opposing party or his/her attorney. If a settlement cannot be reached, then your attorney will ask the court to set a trial date.
Time frames for bringing your case to conclusion.
Discovery – that is, data gathering from your spouse – generally cannot start until approximately one to two months after the divorce proceedings are initiated as certain events must take place first (i.e. serving the other party with the divorce paperwork, the other party filing his/her Appearance with the Clerk of Court, and the completion of a worksheet required by the court to initiate discovery). The data-gathering process usually takes two to three months. When your attorney seeks data (discovery) from the other side, they generally have twenty-eight days in which to comply.
The length of time for this first stage – the data-gathering stage – will vary in accordance with the degree of cooperation received from your spouse and your spouse’s attorney and the complexity of the data.
The next stages, those of categorizing the data and evaluating it, will generally take one to two months, depending upon the complexity of the data. If a number of appraisals are required, however, it may take longer.
The final stage, that of negotiations, generally varies in length from one to three months, depending upon how far apart the parties’ initial settlement positions are. If it appears that the parties’ settlement positions are significantly far apart or there are a few lingering issues preventing a final settlement, then your attorney will typically ask the court for a pretrial conference. During a pretrial conference, the attorneys discuss with the judge the facts of the case and ask the judge for a settlement recommendation in order to avoid trial.
If the parties are able to reach a settlement, a court date for entry of a final divorce decree can be obtained at virtually anytime. However, if the parties cannot reach a settlement, they then have the option of asking the judge to set the case for trial. Currently, the waiting period to bring a case to trial, from the time the request for a trial date is made, varies from approximately three months to nine months dependent upon the judge presiding over the case.