It is always preferable to negotiate an amicable settlement in divorce and other family law cases. Unfortunately, that is not possible in every case.
At the beginning of a case, parties frequently are not able to agree on who will stay in the home and who will move out; what the parenting plan will be; how much spousal maintenance and child support will be paid; or who will be responsible for paying bills and debts. The court will make those decisions for the parties at a temporary orders hearing. A motion for temporary orders can be heard on 14 days notice.
The discovery process typically begins after temporary orders are entered. Interrogatories and requests for production are sent to the opposing party to gain information necessary to prosecute and settle the case. Information requested typically includes banking and investment accounts, tax returns, employment history, retirement and benefit plans, pension statements, insurance policies, etc. In some cases interrogatories my seek information about medical or mental health issues or ask questions about prior criminal history.
Experts are retained to assist counsel with technical aspects of the case. Those experts may be intended to testify at trial or they may be consulting experts who are hired to advise counsel. Expert witnesses are used to determine the value of property or businesses or to help decide how much financial support a client will require. Experts include CPAs, psychiatrists, financial planners and property appraisers. Parenting evaluators are frequently retained to evaluate each parent and make a parenting plan recommendation to the court.
Depositions allow one party to question the other party or their witnesses under oath, prior to trial. Attorneys conduct depositions to gather more specific information about documents provided in response to the interrogatories or the requests for production. Depositions are also conducted to discover preview the evidence the other side will be presenting at trial.
Many counties require the parties to participate in an alternative dispute resolution process prior to trial. Most cases resolve in mediation or at a settlement conference. The mediation process is more productive if discovery has been completed prior to engaging in mediation because the parties will know what their assets and liabilities are and what their assets are worth. The parenting evaluator’s recommendation should be known prior to mediation as well.
If the case does not settle in mediation, it will proceed to trial. Family law trials are decided by judges, not juries. The judge will hear testimony from the parties and their witnesses after which the court will decide parenting and property issues.