In this article, you will learn…
- What the typical steps of a divorce or custody case are,
- What items you’ll be asking the court to decide on your behalf, and
- What additional steps may be needed during contentious cases.
What Are The Critical Steps That You Need To Take In A Divorce Or Custody Case Before You Even Go In Front Of A Judge?
Before you go in front of a judge in a divorce or custody case, there are several steps that you may need to take. These can include…
- Filing your case in court,
- Serving the opposing party,
- Attending your scheduling conference,
- Completing ordered services,
- Attending mediation,
- Attending parenting classes,
- Completing discovery,
- Attending your settlement conference, and
The very first step in every divorce or custody case is going to be filing your case in court. There’s a misconception that you file your case, get a court date, and go before a judge right away to explain your situation. That’s a very simplified version of what actually happens in litigation.
Filing your case in court is essentially you asking the court to decide…
- Whether or not to divorce you,
- Who your children will live with,
- Who will make decisions for your children,
- How to divide your marital property, and
- Whether or not to award alimony.
Once you’ve filed your case, it’s basically broken down into a few parts. This can vary depending on what county you file in and the facts of your case. Generally speaking, though, it will be your responsibility to get the documents officially served to the opposing party.
The scheduling conference is the very first court appearance, where the court will set some dates and deadlines, as well as order particular services according to your case. Services that you may be ordered to get in some cases can include…
- Getting a home study,
- Getting drug or alcohol evaluations, and/or
- Getting psychological evaluations.
One party can request that the court order the other party to complete one or more of these services, but the request isn’t always granted. There would need to be a valid basis for the request.
In many counties, you will be ordered to go to mediation. This is where you try to resolve your issues by agreement rather than going through the whole process of litigation, which culminates in a trial. The court can refer you to two sessions of mediation that are each two hours long.
In cases involving children and custody disputes, the court will order the parents to take parenting classes. These classes are designed to help people figure out how to co-parent once they’re no longer together. Most of the counties are now doing online classes for parenting education which are about six hours long.
If you have a complex or heavily contested case, you’ll want to do discovery. Discovery typically happens toward the middle of your case, after all of the previously mentioned steps have been completed. Discovery isn’t required, but if you have issues that are strongly disputed and you feel they’re worth the fight, it may be right for you.
During the discovery phase, each party has an opportunity to ask the other side written questions, which are called interrogatories. Each party may also request certain documents from the opposing party. The law requires that interrogatories are responded to and requested documents are produced.
If you’re going to discovery, it’s important to have an experienced attorney to help you navigate the process. You’re collecting essential information to support your case and the arguments you intend to make to the court. If you’re going to ask the court to make a decision on your behalf, you need to prove to the court that they should make that decision based on the law.
The law isn’t set up for a trial by surprise. Many people think that they’re going to get to their final trial and throw out a lot of surprise testimony, text messages, and other documentation to turn the tide in their favor, but that’s really not how it works in the real world.
In the real world, you’re exchanging information through discovery so that everybody has access to the evidence so that they can prepare their case to present to the court. The discovery process can take some time, typically a couple of months, because of the back and forth between parties. This happens outside of actual court hearings and appearances. Discovery is the most expensive part of a divorce or custody case, but it isn’t always necessary.
Finally, you will have your settlement conference. The court isn’t trying to have a trial. When it comes to family law, the court would love it if all parties could come to amicable agreements to settle their case rather than having to litigate disagreements before the court. To that end, the court gives the parties ample opportunity to come together and discuss potential settlements prior to trial. It’s always the favorable outcome to settle your case outside of a trial rather than having to ask a stranger to make decisions about your life, your possessions, and your children.
A settlement conference is very much like mediation, with the difference being that you’re doing it with a judge instead of a mediator. They do this to bring you together and try to help you resolve the case prior to going to trial. If you’re still unable to resolve disagreements, however, you will be going to trial.
These are all the general pieces of a divorce or custody case, but you can always have things come up throughout the process. There can be volatile situations between spouses or parents that result in protective orders and additional hearings. You can have parties who refuse to respond to discovery requests which would mean you have to go through a discovery dispute where the court has to get involved.
Through the course of the litigation process, you may also have some temporary hearings based on whether or not a party is being denied access to a child or if someone feels they need temporary alimony or child support. This hearing typically happens around the halfway point and is called a Pendente Lite, or pending litigation, hearing.
Only in the most contentious cases, particularly when one party has a lot of money to throw at it, you can have depositions. A deposition is similar to a trial in that you’re answering a series of questions under oath. If you’re the one being deposed, you and your attorney have to prepare for that. If you’re deposing someone else, your attorney needs to prepare the questions that need to be answered by the other party.
Every divorce and custody case is going to be different based on the individuals, their situation, and their ability to mediate the issues. Some cases may go very smoothly and quickly, while others may become quite complex. It isn’t uncommon for complicated factors to arise and prolong your case, so having a knowledgeable attorney can really make a positive difference.
With the guidance of a skilled attorney for Family Law Cases, you can have the peace of mind that comes with knowing that we’ll make it look easy. For more information on Family Law in Maryland, a free initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking by calling (443) 300-2335 today.