There are a number of different steps you have to look at. The first step is whether it’s going to be a petitioner and co-petitioner filing. In other words, are you and your spouse going to file together? If you are, you’re both going to need to sign off on the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage. That does save the cost of the filing fee for the respondent. If you’re not going to do a petitioner and co-petitioner filing, then if you are the petitioner you have to decide how you are going to get the paperwork served on the other party. Most people will waive and accept service. I always call, unless there’s domestic violence involved or some high-conflict situation. I would say 99% of the time someone comes in to see me, we decide to go ahead with the Dissolution of Marriage petition I always call the other side up and say, “Hey, look. I have the paperwork for you. How can I get it to you? I’d like for you to sign a waiver and acceptance of service so that you acknowledge receipt of the documents for purposes of due process. I really don’t want to have to send a process server to your door, or a sheriff to serve you.” The first step is how are you going to file your petition, the next step is how is service going to be perfected.
Then, the third step is getting the petition on file with the appropriate court. You look at the county where you reside and that, typically, is where you’re going to want to file your case. We, obviously, handle all filing for you if you come in and retain us. Then, the next step is attending the initial status conference. After your case is filed, in all of the counties you’re going to have to go to an initial status conference. Both parties need to go. They need to appear in person if at all possible. You will either meet with a family court facilitators in most instances, or a magistrate judge. The purpose of that meeting is to make sure that you understand your rights and responsibilities through this process, that you understand that you need to complete a sworn financial statement, and provide mandatory financial disclosures, and that if you have minor children you need to go to the appropriate parenting class.
Also, at that initial status conference, we will discuss whether or not one party or both need temporary orders. Temporary orders are exactly that, they are temporary orders to get you through the process regarding use and possession of property, payment of debts, parenting time, child support, and the like. Because your case is going to have to be on file for 91 days before you can appear before the court for your final hearing, which is a permanent orders hearing. So you might need interim relief during that process. The next step after that is mediation. In most cases, a mediation order is entered and both parties are required to participate in mediation. The courts would like to see parties resolve their disputes amicably amongst each other, and it saves a lot of judicial time and resources. You’re going to have to go to mediation and complete that requirement prior to your final hearing.
If there has been domestic violence involved, the courts usually will waive the mediation requirement. Although, sometimes it’s a good idea to go ahead and attempt mediation so long as you can make arrangements so that the parties feel protected. The last step in the process is your permanent orders hearing. If you are unable to resolve your situation by agreement, then you’re going to need to go and have the judge decide your fate. That is your permanent orders hearing. It’s usually set for either half a day or a full day, depending on the number of issues that you have. If you’re going to have to go to court for a permanent orders hearing, you really should consider hiring an attorney. If you have a contested hearing, it is not a good idea to go in and do that pro se. Most people, they freeze when they get in there. Hire an attorney to represent you. Come in and talk to me and see if I’m the right fit for your situation.