If you’ve been served with divorce papers or you’re thinking about ending your marriage, you likely have a lot of questions. But first, it’s important to understand that divorce in real life is not like what you see on television. There are no “winners” and “losers.” The legal process is simply about resolving issues surrounding your finances, establishing child custody, and dividing your property in a way that’s fair.
Although every case is different, here’s what you can expect during the divorce process:
The Initial Consultation With Your Attorney
Before you do anything else, it’s critical to consult with an experienced divorce attorney to learn about your legal rights and options. Every divorce is unique — and the strategies used in a case can vary widely, depending on the circumstances. At your initial consultation, you will discuss your specific situation with the attorney, and they will provide you with a potential game plan.
Serving the Summons and Complaint
If you’re the spouse initiating the divorce, you will need to file a summons and complaint (or a summons with notice — although this is not as common) with the court. After they have been filed, the papers must be served on your spouse.
The summons is an official document advising that a case has been started. The complaint outlines the grounds for the divorce and specifies what you’re asking for. While fault-grounds are used in some cases, most divorces in New York are based on an “irretrievable breakdown” of the marriage.
If you’re the spouse who was served the commencement documents, you will need to respond by filing an answer. Before doing so, consult with an attorney to ensure you’re not waiving any rights.
Attending Court Conferences
Once both parties have appeared in the case, the court will schedule a “preliminary conference.” At this first conference, both sides talk with the judge about the issues that need to be resolved and set a schedule for discovery. The judge will not make any rulings of fact at this time, but they might issue temporary orders for child support or spousal maintenance. The number of conferences will depend on whether your case settles — and how quickly.
Going Through the Discovery Process
In a divorce, both parties have the right to fully understand the other’s financial situation. At the very beginning of the case, each side is required to file a “Statement of Net Worth.” In addition, throughout the phase of the divorce process called “discovery,” spouses exchange tax returns, credit card statements, banking information, and any other documents pertaining to their asset and property ownership.
This process is necessary to gather information and ensure a fair resolution is reached. Parties can also conduct depositions where they will ask the other side questions. In addition, they can send interrogatories — these are a series of written questions that the other side will be required to answer. It’s critical to understand that any relevant information may be “discoverable” in a divorce, including electronic data and social media.
Negotiating or Mediating a Settlement Agreement Outside of Court
Often, divorces are concluded through negotiation or mediation before they reach the trial stage. By coming to an agreement outside of court, parties can decide how alimony, child support, child custody, and property division will be handled, rather than let a judge determine the outcome. Negotiating or mediating a settlement agreement can minimize conflict and save both spouses the stress, cost, and uncertainty associated with litigation.
Litigating the Outcome in Court
Very few divorce cases make it to trial. But if negotiations fail and a resolution cannot be reached, your case will be litigated in court and decided by a judge. The court will hear the arguments made by each side and evaluate the evidence to issue a judgment.
Contact an Experienced New York City Divorce Lawyer
If you are facing divorce, it’s essential to have a skilled divorce attorney who can help you navigate the legal process. The Edelsteins, Faegenburg & Brown LLP has been providing compassionate counsel and aggressive advocacy for divorce and family law matters for more than 70 years. Call (212) 425-1999 to schedule a consultation or contact us now.