One party to the marriage begins the legal process for the dissolution of marriage by filing a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage. The person filing the case is referred to as the "Petitioner." The other spouse is referred to as the "Respondent."
Once the petition is filed with the Clerk of the Circuit Court of the appropriate County, the Petition and a Summons will be served upon the respondent by a sheriff or a private process server.
2. The Response
Once served, the Respondent has 30 days to file an appearance and written response. If the Respondent fails to file a Response in this time, the Petitioner may request the Court to hold the Respondent in default to proceed with the divorce.
If either party requests that formal restraining orders or injunctions be placed against the other party, they may file pleadings with the Court to request protection for themselves, dependent children or marital property.
The next step in the process is referred to as "discovery." This is the formal investigation the parties participate in to assist in disclosing all financial documentation relating to the parties' assets and debts. Assets and debts of the parties need to be classified as "marital property" or "non-marital" property. Assets and debts accumulated by the parties during their marriage may be classified as "marital property" unless it is:
- Property acquired before the marriage
- Property acquired by gift, legacy or descent
- Property acquired in exchange for property acquired before the marriage or in exchange for property acquired by gift, legacy or descent
- Property acquired by a spouse after a judgment of legal separation
- Property excluded from the tally of marital property by valid agreement of the parties
- Any judgment or property obtained by judgment awarded to a spouse from the other spouse
- The increase in value of property acquired by a method listed above
- Income from the property acquired by a method listed above, if the income is not attributable to the personal effort of a spouse.
There may be exceptions to the above based upon the particular facts and circumstances of individual cases.
If either party is concerned about information being hidden from them or one party handled all the finances during a marriage, discovery is a tool to be used in gaining information about the parties' financial picture. During this process of gathering information, our firm can assist you in using the appropriate discovery tools to be sure all pertinent information is obtained.
4. Negotiated Settlement
Once all information has been exchanged so both parties' have a working knowledge of their financial picture, values have been obtained for various assets and debts, property is identified as marital and/or non-marital, then the parties can begin the process of discussing and negotiating a final settlement.
It is during this process that our firm can assist you in making an informed decision about your present and future needs. As skilled negotiators experienced in the area of domestic relations cases, we can assist you in objectively assessing the areas most important to you in moving forward, to hopefully resolve issues in a practical, sensible manner, taking into consideration your desires and the needs of your family.
Many cases involve child custody/visitation issues as well as financial assets and debts to work through during the negotiation process. Both of these areas can be very emotional for people and difficult to work through in a rational, sensible way. We strive to ensure your desires for your child's well being in custody/visitation matters receive attention. We also strive to ensure you receive a fair and equitable division of the assets and debts accumulated during the marriage.
We understand that the divorce process is not only an emotionally draining experience, but it can also be a financially draining experience. Our lawyers are sensitive to the time it takes to resolve your case. We are very conscious of the costs involved and do not proceed with unnecessary measures that will drive the costs of the case up. We proceed with care, input and authorization from you. If you and your spouse are unable to come to a mutually agreeable settlement, then the case may proceed to trial.
In the infrequent cases where the parties cannot reach a settlement, we will help you present all the relevant facts and evidence to the judge at a trial to allow the judge to reach a fair and equitable result. Together, we will assist you in deciding how to proceed with the case, necessary witnesses, experts and documents, which support your position. We will assist you in compiling appropriate documentary evidence, including, if necessary, the use of investigators to acquire vital information. We work to ensure the judge receives all relevant, pertinent and appropriate information, which is the basis of your case.