Four Stages of a Divorce

Divorces come in two standard colors; uncontested or contested.  They both work but the process for each is very different.   Uncontested divorces only need a few documents filed.   No court hearings and you can be divorced in two weeks.  Contested divorces are more complex and take much longer.  Below we talk about the process for both an uncontested divorce and it’s more complex cousin the contested divorce.

Uncontested Divorce Process

An uncontested divorce, both parties agree to all the terms of the divorce.  If spouses agree on “all” the terms regarding child custody, division of assets and alimony then an uncontested divorce can be filed.   The average cost for an uncontested divorce is less than $1,600 and takes two to three weeks.

The uncontested divorce process begins with one party drafting the divorce documents.  Both parties review the documents and agree to all the terms.   If both parties agree then a judge reviews the documents.  The final divorce decree is signed by the judge.   The divorce is final.  Unlike the contested divorce process, uncontested divorces do not require a court appearance.

The easiest way to get started with an uncontested divorce is complete our uncontested divorce worksheet with your spouse.

Contested Divorce Process

Contested divorce occurs when there is at least one issue you and your spouse disagree on.  If you are in disagreement on any issue, you cannot file an uncontested divorce.   Contested divorces are longer, more complicated, and more expensive than an uncontested divorce. The contested divorce process is best broken down into the following four stages; beginning, motions, discovery, and trial.

Stage 1: The Beginning

The initial step in getting a divorce is filing the Compliant.  The Complaint is the legal document asking for the specific terms of the divorce. It  can include requests for things like child custody, child support, division of property, division of debts, spousal support, and attorney fees. The party filing the Complaint is the plaintiff and the parties who must respond to the Complaint is the defendant. The plaintiff must personally serve the defendant with the Complaint.  Strict rules govern how to personally serve a defendant.  Most divorce attorneys use a company to hand deliver the papers to the defendant at home or work.

Along with the Complaint, the plaintiff must serve the defendant with a Summons and a Joint Preliminary Injunction (JPI). The Summons is the court’s official notice to the defendant they are being sued. It also notifies the defendant that they have 20 days to respond to the Complaint. The JPI prohibits the parties from selling anything or making substantial purchases during the divorce process. The Court does this to prevent the parties from intentionally messing with the status quo just because a divorce was started.

One a defendant is served with the divorce documents the defendant has 20 days to respond. The defendant’s response is called the Answer. Within the Answer, the defendant responds to the allegations within the Complaint and also has the opportunity to assert their own allegations in the form of counterclaims.

Though the allegations in the Complaint should be taken seriously, it is important to remember that these requests are merely wishes.    The Complaint is the Plaintiff’s side of the story.  The court will give you ample time to explain your story.   You will be filing an Answer and counterclaim which is your side of the story.

In order to asses both parties financial ability, both the  plaintiff and defendant must file a Financial Disclosure Form (FDF) with the court. This form helps the court make decisions regarding child support, spousal support, division of assets, and division of debts.

After the documents have been filed and served, and the FDF has been filed, both divorce attorneys should take the time to negotiate the terms of the divorce.   The beginning stage is the best time to start negotiating final agreements.

Stage 2: Motions and Temporary Orders

If a settlement cannot be reached, then going to court may be necessary.  In the next stage, the court will start to schedule court hearings.

The first hearing is usually the Case Management Conference (CMC). The goal of a CMC is to determine what has been settled and what has not.  It’s also a time for the court to schedule a settlement conference, schedule an appointment with Family Mediation Center (FMC) for custody terms, and look at future dates for a trial.

A settlement conference is where everyone meets with a different judge to see if the issues can be resolved.  At FMC, a mediator will work with the parties to create custody schedule for the children.

If a settlement cannot be reached, a spouse may file a Motion Temporary Orders.  During the case either party can request the judge make temporary decisions. Common requests cover issues such as who can live in the home during the divorce, who pays child support and how much, who pays spousal support, who will have custody of the child, etc.

Requests filed with the court are called a Motion.  Most motions require a written summary of legal reasons for granting the motion.  When a motion is filed and served, the opposing party has 14 days to respond by filing an opposition. An opposition is a document filed in response to the motion. The opposition provides the judge an opposing version of the facts and issues.

Motions typically require a hearing.  At the hearing the judge will listen to both attorneys and make a ruling.  The ruling (or order) will remain in place until your case ends.  Temporary orders can become permanent orders, but not always. Judges can create new orders after seeing different evidence at trial.

Any unsettled issues need to go to trial. If a trial is necessary, then the divorce lawyers and judge agree on dates for discovery and trial.  Both parties and their divorce attorneys attend the CMC.

Stage 3: Discovery

Discovery is where each side is allowed to request evidence from the other side.  This is the fact-finding or investigative portion of the divorce process.  The discovery process can be accomplished by requesting the others side to answer question, asking for copies of documents, subpoenas, or depositions.

Interrogatories, typically called ROGS, are questions. The ROGS will ask specific questions, which you must answer. Requests for documents, called RFP’s, is a request for documents. You must provide any of the requested documents you have or can get. Typical requests are bank records, medical records, pay stubs, contracts, etc. Nothing is off-limits. You may not like the request and refuse to produce the documents. Talk with your divorce attorney first. You are usually better off giving them the documents.

Depositions are formal interviews conducted by both divorce lawyers who interview the other party or witnesses under oath. Depositions are usually scheduled after the ROGS and RFP’s. The attorney will use the answers from the ROGS and admissions to choose specific questions.

The end of the Discovery stages is a natural place to try and settle the remaining issues.   If the parties reach a final settlement, a divorce decree is filed with the court and the decree finalizes the cases. If a settlement does not occur or is not reached, the case will proceed to trial.

Stage 4: Trial

Trial is the final hearing where the judge reviews all the evidence and makes a final decision.

At trial, both parties present all the evidence gathered.  Both parties have witnesses testify before the judge. A trial only takes a day or two but takes many days for your divorce attorney to prepare. Your attorney needs to have a game plan for every piece of evidence and every potential witness.

After the trial is over, the judge will make a final ruling. The judge may make the order immediately after trial or several weeks later. One of the attorneys writes up a document detailing the order. This is the final divorce decree and details the final decisions regarding all legal matters presented to the court. Both parties must follow this order.

If you disagree with the judge’s decision you can file an appeal. A divorce or child custody appeal is then reviewed by Nevada’s Appellate Court or Supreme Court. The appellate court could agree with the judge, disagree with the judge and ask him to make a new decision, or  make a new decision.