In terms of a contested divorce, there are four processes that take place in order to reach a conclusion of your case.
The first stage involves an initial case workup where we will have you complete an initial questionnaire and then gather some documents, a whole host of things including bank statements, title work for your home and such. That will allow us to fully understand the nature of your marital estate and so forth.
Beyond that, we will prepare the initial summons and petition for dissolution. Those are the initial pleadings in a divorce and we will have your spouse served with those documents. Once those documents are served, we will prepare an affidavit of service and then file those with the district court. The clerk will assign a judge to your file and then they’ll set that on for the first appearance in your case.
That first appearance is called an initial case management conference; an ICMC and the purpose of that conference is to just sit down with the judge on a more informal basis and have a conversation about the nature of your case. Usually, we receive a referral to something called early neutral evaluation.
It’s a court-approved program that allows the litigants to sit down with counsel and talk about the facts of your case. Once that evaluator has a chance to digest all that information, he or she will give us their opinion about what they think a range of likely outcomes is.
Once we have that input it’s confidential and non-binding. It has no precedential value, but once we hear what they have to say, we will take some time then to negotiate and about 80% of the time cases do resolve through that process so it’s a significant savings in terms of fees and costs and time if we can reach an agreement through that.
If we’re unable to reach an agreement through that early neutral evaluation process, then a more traditional approach to litigation will occur. That will involve a couple of things. First, in some instances we need to file a motion for temporary relief. That’s a request either party can make for some sort of either allocation of financial resources or a temporary custody of children pending a final conclusion in your case.
Once that happens, we also have an opportunity to more fully and informally gather information from your spouse through a process called discovery. We may take their deposition. We may send out a formal request for answers to questions. Those are called interrogatories or a request for production of certain documentation.
During that discovery phase, we’re also likely to retain any necessary experts, be it a custody evaluator or a business appraiser or a real estate appraiser or someone else to help us, an accountant maybe run cashflow scenarios in terms of alimony in an effort to fully prepare your case and get all of the facts out on the table in anticipation of a trial.
Prior to a trial there, there’s a pretrial conference. We have a chance to meet with the judge and talk with he or she about what issues remain in dispute and once the court understands what those issues are, the court may send us one more time to something called a moderated settlement conference. It’s a lot like that early neutral evaluation process except it happens on the brink of trial instead of very early in the case.
A good number of cases still resolved through that process, but those that don’t will find their way to the courtroom in the form of a trial.
A trial is the last or partially last phase of the process. I say partially because once the trial is over and the court renders a decision, either party has the right to appeal.
That process can take about a year or so to run its course, and again, about 95% of the time, the cases that we handle do not require a trial. So the approach that we take is to avoid that at all costs, but we’re certainly prepared to take your matter to trial if necessary.