When you know something is wrong in your marriage that can’t be repaired and the time has come to deal with it head on, you realize all of those courtroom drama tv shows that depict a quick process have left a lot of the details out. Knowing what you’re embarking on is important to your mental and physical health because divorce can be a stressful, arduous process when you feel like you’re being surprised by something new every time you turn around.
Contrary to the impression you may have been left with, there is a lot that goes on between a consultation and the filing of a divorce decree. Some of that is up to you, some of it is up to your spouse, and some of it is up to your attorneys who you hire to protect your interests. To try to answer some of your questions, below we’ll take a quick look at some of what happens once you decide to move forward with the divorce process.
How do I begin my divorce?
There are a few actions to be taken to initiate divorce. The first of which is physically separating by one of you moving out of the home. The next step is to either file for legal separation, if circumstances deem this to be the right ground, or based on a fault ground for divorce such as adultery.
Before you separate:
- Consult with a family law attorney before taking any of these steps as there may be strategic reasons for handling your particular case a certain way. Giving your attorney a good idea of what your goals are will help tailor the legal advice you’re given toward accomplishing the outcome you’re looking for.
- Take a full inventory of all personal property and assets you and your spouse own, regardless of who made the purchase or whose name may be on a loan, title or insurance policy. If possible, memorialize the list by taking photographs or a date-stamped video recording of everything. In the event your spouse later claims a particular item doesn’t exist, you can dispute that.
- Make a list of everything you remove from the home if you turn out to be the spouse who vacates the marital home.
Once the initial complaint has been filed with the court, things will begin to move. A temporary hearing will be scheduled and held where a judge will decide how certain issues will be handled up until your divorce is final, such as:
- Child custody and visitation
- Child support
- Property division such as possession of the marital home and vehicles
- Restraining orders as to domestic violence or to restrict the liquidation of assets
- Responsibility for ongoing payment of debts
Engaging in discovery and mediation
The middle portion of your divorce is by far, the longest part of the process because so many things happen depending upon the course your case takes. This is a period known as “discovery” because you engage in several procedures geared toward discovering the evidence each party possesses, which helps in crafting a strategy. In some cases, the evidence can be used to drive a settlement while in others it is simply stocking up ammunition for a trial. Often you won’t know which direction will give you the best results until the discovery process is complete.
General discovery is a months-long process that includes:
- Making and receiving written requests for information, which each side is obligated to answer.
- Requesting and providing documentation to be used as evidence by each side.
- Taking depositions of one another and any witnesses.
- Issuing subpoenas for information such as financial records.
Mediation offers a chance to escape trial
Once discovery is far enough along or even complete, mediation will be scheduled with a neutral party – often a retired judge or another attorney – to see whether you are able to reach common ground on any of the issues. Mediations typically last just a day and can end in one of three ways:
- No issues are resolved and your entire case will have to move on to trial to be decided by a judge.
- Some of the issues can be resolved, leaving only some to be decided by a judge at trial.
- You are able to successfully resolve everything and come to an agreement, which will be drawn up and presented to a judge at a hearing to approve and then finalize your divorce.
Trial is sometimes unavoidable
When mediation fails, the only other option you have is to prepare for trial. Once the request is made, it may be a few months before your case can be heard. That time will be spent:
- Pouring over all of the evidence you obtained and determining which pieces are key to proving your case.
- Meeting with your attorney to prepare your testimony.
- Witnesses being subpoenaed to testify.
- Working with experts who can help substantiate your claims.
- Obtaining more information to provide a stronger counter to certain evidence.
- Creating arguments to counter any claims and evidence your spouse intends to use to defeat your case.
Depending on the intricacies of your case, trials can take anywhere from one day to more than a week in a high-asset divorce.
Because there are many logistical, strategic, and technical issues to consider, you need to hope for the best but be prepared for the worst. Most couples come out somewhere in between, affording them the ability to begin moving on with their lives faster. Understanding the process going in will enable you to mentally prepare yourself and make a sometimes unpredictable path a little easier to handle.
To schedule your consultation with one of our experienced Knoxville family law attorneys at LaFevor & Slaughter, please call our office at 865-637-6258, or we invite you to reach out to us through our contact page to tell us your story.