Las Vegas Divorce Process
Divorce Court Process & Explanation in Nevada
Let’s take a few minutes to explain the standard contested divorce or contested child custody case along with how to get a divorce in Las Vegas. We will also discuss filing for divorce and how to file for divorce in Nevada. We’d like to break the entire process into three parts: beginning, discovery and trial. These parts or stages need to go in order. You cannot get to trial without going through discovery, and you cannot get to discovery without going through the beginning. Not all cases will get to discovery or trial. In fact, most cases settle. A case can settle at any part during the Las Vegas divorce process.
Part 1. Divorce Documents, First Court Hearings
The divorce process begins when a husband or wife files a Complaint for Divorce. The Complaint is the legal document asking for the divorce and other requests, such as child support, property, spousal support, custody, etc. Whoever files the Complaint is called the plaintiff. The other party is called the defendant. There is no advantage to being a plaintiff or defendant.
With the Complaint goes a Summons and a Joint Preliminary Injunction (JPI). The summons is the court’s official notice to the defendant you are being sued, and telling them they must respond to the attached complaint within 20 days. The JPI warns both parties not to sell anything substantial or purchase anything substantial. Basically, the court doesn’t want anyone to sell anything of value because they are getting divorced.
The complaint, summons and JPI need to be given to the defendant. This is called legal service or process of service. There are specific rules of who and what is considered proper service. Most lawyers use a company to hand deliver the papers to the defendant at home or at their work. The person delivering the documents certifies the documents were served.
After being served the documents, the defendant has 20 days to respond with an Answer for Divorce. The Answer is the legal document responding to the complaint. An Answer responds to each allegation in the complaint by denying or admitting it. You may add counterclaims with your Answer. This is your requests. For example, your spouse may ask you for the house in her complaint and you may ask for the house in your counterclaim. The requests or accusations in Complaint or counterclaims should be taken seriously, but don’t get too excited about the allegations or requests. Remember, they are just wishes. Everything requested will need to be proven at trial.
Both plaintiff and defendant will need to file a Financial Disclosure Form (FDF) with the court. This form is used by the court to make decisions on child support, spousal support, division of assets and division of debts.
Divorce Court Hearings
So, when do you go to court? After the Complaint and Answer are filed the court will schedule your first hearing. Your first hearing with either be a Case Management Conference (CMC). A CMC is attended by both parties and their attorneys. The hearing is in front of the judge. The goal of a CMC is to listen to which requests can be settled and which need to go to trial. If a trial is needed, then the attorneys and judge agree on dates for discovery and trial.
It may be three months before the CMC is scheduled, and it may take eight months before you go to trial. What if you need temporary decision about finances or custody schedules? Your attorney can file a motion, which is a request for the judge to make temporary orders. We call this a Motion for Temporary Orders. One party files a motion, and the other party has 10 days to respond to this motion. Typical temporary orders are made in regards to who will live in the marital home, who should pay child support or spousal support, child custody schedule etc. Temporary orders are entered by the judge and will remain in place until both parties settle the case or when a final order has been determined by the judge. Temporary orders may become permanent orders but not always. Judges can create new orders after seeing different evidence at trial.
You may experience several motion hearings. Motion to Compel, Motion for Reconsideration, etc. During the pendency of the case, a motion is a formal request made to the judge to make a decision. Most motions require a written brief of legal reasons for granting the motion, and a notice of the date of the hearing. When a motion is filed and served, the opposing party has 10 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.
For those divorces with children, mediation is mandatory. Couples are ordered by the judge to meet with the Family Mediation Center (FMC). Here a mediator will to attempt to work on a weekly timeshare schedule of the child(ren), and child support.
The meeting is mandatory, but mediators at FMC cannot force you to accept the terms. Any custody issues not finalized will be decided by the judge at trial.
The court will schedule a Return Hearing called a Return from FMC. The purpose of the hearing is to ask about your attempts at resolving the child custody disputes. If there are still disputes the judge will open discovery and set a date for a trial.
When parents separate, children often have a hard time adjusting. To help lessen the impact on the children, the court requires separating parents to attend a class called the “Cope Class“. In the class parents learn how to focus on the needs of the children and to work together for the benefit of the child. The judge will not sign a final order unless this class has been completed.
Part 2. Discovery
If there is information or documents you need to prove your case at trial, you will need to conduct “Discovery”. Discovery is the process where you collect evidence to submit at trial, so the judge will agree with your requests listed in your complaint or counterclaim. Discovery mainly consists of disclosures of documents, interrogatories, admissions, requests for documents, subpoenas and depositions.
Discovery can be expensive and invasive. But without evidence, it will be hard for a judge to grant you your requests. For example, you want primary physical custody of the children. You need to submit evidence to support this request. Your attorney will use discovery to obtain the correct evidence like an incident report of domestic violence.
16.2 Disclosures are the first discovery requirement. They are called 16.2’s because Nevada Rules of Civil Procedure 16.2 state both parties must file and disclose a Financial Disclosure Form (FDF) and supporting documents. Supporting documents include bank statements, credit card statements, tax returns, mortgage statements etc.
Interrogatories, typically called ROGS, are questions. The ROGS will ask specific questions, which must be answered. The questions are attempting to gather information for trial. Or, their attorney may use your answers to cross-exam you at a deposition.
Admissions are questions written in a way for you to response yes or no. The slang for these questions is admits. They can be tricky. The most tricky part of admits is you failing to answer them. Under Nevada law if you don’t answer the admissions, then all questions are deemed to be answer yes. So, make sure to respond to admissions.
Requests for documents, called RFP’s, is a request for documents. You must provide any of the requested documents you have or can obtain. Typical requests are bank records, medical records, pay stubs, contracts, etc. Everything is fair game. You may not like the request and refuse to produce the documents. Talk with your attorney first. You are usually better off giving them the documents.
Subpoenas are when an attorney requests documents from a third party like an employer, school or doctor. A subpoenas is similar to an RFP. The third party is required by law to provide the documents. You don’t need to do anything and may not realize your medical records have been subpoenaed.
Depositions is where the fun happens. The attorney is allowed to interview, under oath, the other party or witnesses. Depositions are usually scheduled after the ROGS and RFP’s. Using the answers from the ROGS or admissions, the attorney can narrow down specific questions to ask. Your answers in a deposition are under oath and can be used against you at the trial.
Part 3. Settlement, and Trial
With both sides having exhausted discovery, the next step in the Las Vegas divorce process is a Calendar Call. This is the final hearing in court before trial. At Calendar Call, the judge will ask what issues have been settled and what issues are left for trial.
It is common during Calendar Call for the judge to attempt to settle the claims still at large. The judge may even ask the attorneys to meet in small meeting rooms near the courtroom to try and settle the issues. Another settlement option used is to order a settlement conference. This is a hearing, where a senior judge meets with all parties and attempts to reach a settlement. Agreeing to a settlement is not mandatory. If a final settlement is reached, then a divorce decree is filed with the court. The filing of a divorce decree will finalize the case. If a settlement is not reached, then you and your spouse will proceed to trial, and a judge will make the final decision.
At trial you and your attorney will present evidence found during discovery and have witnesses testify before the judge. Your spouse will have the opportunity to do the same. A trial only takes a day or two, but takes multiple days for your attorney to prepare. Your attorney needs to have a game plan for every piece of evidence and every potential witness. Trial is the final hearing where the judge reviews all the evidence and makes a final decision.
After the trial is over, the judge will make a final ruling, also called a divorce decree. The judge may make the order immediately after trial or several weeks later. A document detailing the order is written up by one of the attorneys and signed by the judge. This is your final divorce decree and details the final decisions regarding all legal matters presented to the court. Anyone who violates the court order could be held in contempt of court.
If you disagree with the judge’s decision you can file an appeal. A divorce or child custody appeal is a 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 they can make a new decision. Appeals take years and until the appeal is finalized, the judge’s original order must be followed.
Well, there you have it. You have learned how to get a divorce in Nevada. You just learned the divorce or child custody process from the beginning, through the first hearings, through discovery, through settlements and finally to trial.