1. The Petition for Dissolution is filed. All good (or bad) things must have a start. The Petition for dissolution as well as several other initial documents are filed with the clerk of courts, initiating the proceedings.
2. Preliminary or “Pendente Lite” Hearings. A “Pendente Lite” Hearing, or as it is also referred to a “Preliminary” or “Provisional” hearing is a hearing which often takes place at the request of one party early on in the case. At these hearings, the Court is asked to enter temporary, non-permanent order which will last until a later significant event, usually the final hearing or submission of an agreed upon settlement agreement.
3. Mediation and other Alternative Dispute Resolution processes. Mediation is a process guided by a neutral 3rd party in which negotiations are facilitated by the 3rd party in hopes of avoiding litigation through the Courts. Often, mediators are attorneys or retired judges who have prior trial experience and may inform the litigants of potential or expected outcomes when evaluating their claims and requests.
4. Evaluations and Valuations. Depending on the contested issues, many times, if proceeding to a final hearing, the parties and the Court will need to hear from experts in the field of the contested issue. For contested child custody matters, it is not infrequent that child custody experts, generally psychologists or psychiatrists with specialized training in custody evaluation or attorney guardian ad litems are appointed to assist the court with a report of recommended placement. When assets are unique or difficult to value, accountants, appraisers and other professionals are frequently retained to assist one or both parties in assessing value of the asset.
5. Settlement: When parties agree on some or all previously contested issues, generally a written settlement agreement is generated by one attorney or through the efforts of both parties attorneys. Once signed off on by the parties, the settlement agreement is submitted to the trial judge. Once approved, the agreement is now binding as if it is a court order.
6. Final Hearing. When an agreement is not able to be reached on any or all of the issues in the dissolution, the issues are submitted by way of formal presentation of evidence to a trial judge for a ruling.
7. Decree of Dissolution of Marriage. In agreed upon matters, once the Court approves a settlement agreement, the court will also issue a Decree of Dissolution of Marriage. In contested matters, after evidence is presented to the judge, the judge’s written ruling is the Decree of Dissolution of Marriage.
8. Post-Judgment. Once the ruling is entered by the Court, it is not uncommon that one or several steps must be taken to enforce the Decree issued by the Court. Common post-judgment tasks include registering and creating child support accounts with the county clerk; recording land and real property deeds to reflect awarded property; preparing and filing an income withholding order for support obligations; registering the Decree in any state in which the parties own property.