Friday, February 23, 2024

Divorce Guide: A Step-By-Step Instructional Guide to Introduce the Process

Once you’ve weighed the pros and cons, and then decided that staying married is not going to work and that attempting to reach an agreement with your spouse to allow you to file for a dissolution of your marriage is unlikely, then it’s time to get serious about filing for divorce. That can be an intimidating process and it is difficult to determine where to start. Though each marital circumstance is unique, emotions can run high in these situations and there are usually a number of nuances to consider, overall, divorce cases all follow a general outline.

Here’s an (extremely) simplified guide on the divorce process. Use this guide to gather your thoughts and create your general plan to move forward, but it is strongly suggested that you consult an attorney with experience in this area of the law. 

1. Readying for divorce

The first step to deciding to file for a divorce is to weigh those pros and cons, once again, while considering all the factors. Have you tried couples’ counseling? Are you certain an agreement concerning the termination of your marriage cannot be reached with your spouse, allowing you to file for a dissolution? Once you have done that and determined that divorce is the best/ only alternative, then review other factors that will affect the divorce proceedings,  including custody and child support agreements, determination of asset ownership, division of assets and potential spousal support claims are all important factors to consider.  Prepare to take on these issues, understanding that the Court will handle them equitably, but not necessarily as you desire, then proceed to the next step. 

2. Engage an attorney

When going through a divorce, the first tangible step, once you have decided that you are ready for the split, is to call an attorney. You’ll need to hire someone who you have confidence in, who you feel that you can trust to look out for your best interests and who will advocate for you  – especially if you are struggling emotionally. Attorneys with experience in these cases can give you advice on whether divorce or dissolution is the right path to follow. More often than not, having the process explained and analyzed, while considering your individual circumstances, will make you feel better about the scenario. An attorney can work to ensure you receive the most equitable result possible.

3. Affidavits and other filing requirements 

Each Ohio County has slightly different filing requirements, including affidavits — regarding employment, education, health insurance, children’s issues, monthly expenses, debts and assets — to be completed and filed with a complaint for divorce. These forms assist the Court and the attorneys involved to access the information in known and consistent places to assist in the process.

4. File a Complaint for divorce

The filling of a complaint for divorce starts the process with the Court. A complaint provides notice that you are beginning a civil lawsuit asking for the termination of your marriage and requesting an equitable division of assets, child custody issues, support and other related matters. Your spouse will be served, most often by certified mail,  with a copy of the complaint, the affidavits that you have completed and additional pertinent information from the Court.

5. 28 days allowed for you spouse to file an answer 

After your spouse has been served with a copy of the divorce complaint, they will have 28 days to file an answer with the Court. If your spouse fails to file an timely answer, your case may be placed on the Court’s uncontested docket. A court date will be set, approximately 30 to 45 days after the answer time runs, when the judge will grant an uncontested divorce and make an Order awarding you an equitable division of assets, etc. based on the filed paperwork. If your spouse does file an answer, or a counterclaim — asking that the Court grant them a divorce, your case will be placed on the Court’s contested docket. A pre-trial conference is scheduled for cases on the contested docket, approximately 45 to 60 days from when the answer is filed,  where the judge and the attorneys, or the parties if an attorney is not involved, where the outstanding issues of disagreement are identified and discussed and the Court and the parties will participate in creating a plan for the scheduling of the the rest of the case proceedings. 

6. Request that the Court issue temporary orders during the pendency of the case

While the case is pending, there may be temporary immediate action(s) that you request of the Court.  These can include requests for orders regarding payment of spousal support, child support, child custody and visitation issues, determination on what party (you or your spouse) pays the mortgage or other shared living expenses, etc. These temporary orders are designed to maintain the status quo for other parties while the case proceeds.

7. Determination of values and asset/ liability ownership

During this process, the parties and their attorneys can review the assets and liabilities and values claimed on the affidavits which were filed with the complaint and, if needed,  the attorneys work to determine the values and other issues concerning property divisions or custody agreements. Often, with this exchange of information, agreements can be reached concerning some, or all, aspects of the case. This is a time for you and your attorney to prepare your case to present to the court for a trial, in case you and your spouse just cannot agree on certain issues.

8. Verdicts

In the event that a settlement/ agreement on all issues cannot be reached and a trial, where evidence is presented to the judge concerning any issues that are unresolved, the court considers the evidence presented, including the length of the marriage, the health circumstances of the parties, issues concerning the children (such as parenting time allotment and support), income and the valuations of assets and liabilities to reach an equitable decision to formulate a verdict. While the vast majority of divorce cases resolve with agreements on all issues rather than a trial, if a case cannot be resolved without a trial, the attorneys will use their training and ability to present your case to the judge, and the judge will determine the best solution for all parties.

9. The Court issues an order, terminating your marriage. 

As the state issues a license to allow you and your spouse to enter into a contract of marriage, the court, as an agent of the state, must be involved to terminate the marriage contract.  Once the Judge signs an order and has it filed with the court clerk, you are no longer married.  As an independent person, it is your opportunity to move forward with your life in the way that you determine. 

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