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Steps in the Legal Process for Establishing Child Custody or Obtaining a Legal Separation or Divorce are Similar.
1. Consult an Attorney – These actions are serious matters which involve important legal rights and responsibilities of long range consequence and you deserve to be well informed of your options. Our offices offer an initial free consultation and you may wish to investigate on-line sites which explain about divorce in your state. Keep in mind that each state may have different laws and standards and tax consequences may vary according to which options you choose. You will be more informed if you consult an attorney regarding your own unique requirements.
2. Consider Mediation or Collaboration – Become informed about the various paths to establish child custody, legal separation or divorce and the costs of each method.
3. Gather your Financial Information – The court requires each person obtaining a divorce or seeking financial orders to prepare and sign under oath a Financial Affidavit which completely discloses all income, expenses, debts and assets.
4. Complete the Paperwork to be Filed – A “Summons” and a “Complaint” along with copy of the court’s “Automatic Orders” must be completed and approved by the court clerk or by your attorney. Be sure to read the Automatic Orders.
5. Have a State Marshal Serve the Papers – This is a formality which constitutes legal notice by the filing spouse to the other party; the State Marshal “serves”a certified copy of the Summons and Complaint on the other party and then provides a letter certifying that this was properly accomplished. You must pay the Marshal for this service.
6. Pay the Court Fee – The papers which were served, along with the $350 court filing fee, must be taken to the court at least 6 days before the designated “Return Date” but no one needs to appear at the court on the Return date. Once the fee is paid your case is assigned a Docket Number.
7. File your “Appearance”- You must each inform the court of the address where you wish to receive notices and you must sign this form. If you are the filing party, your name, address and signature are on the “Summons” but if you are the party who receives the papers you must complete and sign a separate “Appearance” form and deliver it to the court if you wish to receive any of the notices regarding your divorce process.
8. Waiting Period – On your “Summons” is listed a Case Management date which is about 90 days after your Return date. After this waiting period, during which you may work out your agreement, you are eligible to obtain your divorce if all of the conditions and requirements are met.
9. Case Management Date – This date is usually about 90 days after your original filing and is a date on which you are eligible to be divorced if everything has been settled and both parties are able to sign a written agreement. Whether or not you are in agreement, you must report your status to the court and be ready to be advised as to how to proceed.
10. Type of Divorce According to Process – The court considers several categories, including uncontested, limited contested, fully contested, and default.
11. Methods of Arriving at Agreement or Achieving Resolution of the Issues- Parties may mediate with a neutral mediator or they may choose a collaborative divorce or custody process with the assistance of their attorneys and a commitment to avoid litigation. Alternatively if they cannot reach agreement outside the court process, they can set dates for hearings or trial and litigate in adversarial manner, presenting evidence so that Judge will make all of the decisions.
12. Date of Dissolution – This may occur on the Case Management date or on a later date up on your request, or after a trial if that is necessary. Parties must file a written agreement, both financial affidavits and other documents and appear on the date assigned.