The first step in a divorce or child custody case is to meet with your lawyer before filing any legal documents. The initial meeting acts as a strategy session in which you and your attorney will discuss the details of your situation. You’ll provide information on what you hope to achieve so your attorney can understand your goals and adequately represent your best interests. Together, you’ll create a path towards the future you’re seeking.
The case can be filed as soon as your lawyer knows your goals and the most important aspects of your situation. Commencing a divorce case involves filing a petition to dissolve the marriage. Both parties will describe their assets, incomes, relationship with children and inform the court what you are asking them to do, such as award parenting time or dividing the estate equally. The party will receive a copy of the petition, and after they are served, they will be asked to file an appearance and answer the petition for divorce.
Once the other party has responded to the divorce petition, both sides must share basic details regarding their finances, which may include income, pay stubs, tax returns, debt, and assets. The judge and attorneys will review these financial documents, which may be used in settlements, to see if there are disagreements about the value of assets and to determine if subpoenas should be filed to certain financial institutions.
Since taking a case to trial can be a long, expensive process, one of the parties involved may require financial support from the spouse, or a schedule to determine when each party will care for the children. When this occurs, the judge might order child support or alimony as temporary financial support, or create a temporary parenting schedule. Your attorney can file a petition with the court to ask for such an order if necessary.
If the parties fail to come to an agreement on parenting time and division of parenting responsibilities, the court will most likely require both to speak to a mediator to pursue an agreement. Your attorney will discuss the agreement and draft a final judgment to the court if the mediation is successful. If an agreement wasn’t reached, the court may elect a Guardian Ad Litem to investigate on behalf of the child’s best interests. The GAL will speak to both parties and their attorneys, find any relevant information and provide a summary to the judge. While the GAL’s recommendation doesn’t finalize the case, it’s taken into consideration when the judge makes a final ruling.
If there are any unresolved issues remaining, a pretrial hearing may need to take place. This meeting is a private hearing between the lawyers and judge in which each lawyer provides a summary of the facts and arguments. The judge will provide feedback, such as a recommendation, in order to help each party reach a settlement. Neither party is bound to agree to the recommendations; however, the pretrial helps your lawyer prepare for further action.
If neither party settles on an agreement even after negotiations or suggestions from the judge, they are able to proceed to a full trial. Typically, a judge will choose a deadline for the attorney to discover facts and information, which may involve preparing witnesses, reviewing documents, issuing subpoenas, and creating arguments. Your attorney will also ensure you are prepared for your own testimony.
During the final trial, each lawyer presents their case by summoning witnesses, who will answer questions under oath. They may have the judge review certain documents, as well as make legal arguments. This process may take days to weeks, depending on how complex the relevant issues are. The judge then considers all information presented and makes a final ruling.
Once the judge has issued a final ruling, your lawyer will explain what the judgment means for you, as well as answer any questions you might have. Additionally, you’ll need to learn what action you should take to implement the final ruling. In some cases, a party may choose to file a Motion to Reconsider.
Usually, both parties and their attorneys will need to confirm that the final judgment is being implemented. Some possibilities include selling marital assets, arranging a parenting time schedule, or redistributing parental duties. Then, the attorneys may file Qualified Domestic Relations Orders or issue a post-decree document for spousal support. If one party is non-compliant, your lawyer will likely need to file a motion to hold them in contempt.
At Virginia Family Law Center, we protect clients’ rights and help them understand the legal processes they are working through. Schedule your 30-minute telephone consultation with an experienced lawyer by filling out the form below.