Family court has its own procedural rules, which is why it is important to hire an attorney experienced in the field to handle your case. The following is a simplified, bare-bones outline of what you can expect during your divorce case:
- Hiring an attorney: You will likely consult with at least one attorney before commencing your case. Depending upon the circumstances, many litigants also want to file at a certain time, for example, in cases of domestic violence. When you decide to hire a lawyer, he or she will have you sign a “Retainer Agreement” or a “Fee Agreement,” which is a contract you will sign with the attorney stating you will pay a certain amount for services and will outline what you can expect as far as billing goes.
- The Initial Pleadings: After you decide to hire an attorney, he or she will prepare a complaint for divorce. This is a document that outlines your ideal outcome in the case in basic terms. After the complaint is filed with the court, you will receive a case number and be assigned to a family court Judge. After that, your attorney will have a summons issued, which is a document that informs the other party that you filed for divorce and they’ll need to answer your complaint. Finally, your attorney will likely request a joint preliminary injunction from the Judge, which is a document that is meant to prevent the other side from removing any children from the state and from transferring, gifting, or otherwise disposing of marital property.
- If you are the one who has been served with a divorce complaint, your attorney will prepare an answer to the complaint, which states which parts of the complaint you agree with and which ones you do not, and a counterclaim for divorce, which will outline what you want out of the case.
- You have the option of filing to remove that Judge from your case for a certain amount of time after filing, which is called a Peremptory Challenge. If you file this document, your case will be randomly assigned to another department. The other party would then have the option to remove the new Judge and get the case randomly assigned to a third department.
- Service: After the complaint, summons, and joint preliminary injunction are finalized, they will need to be served, in person, to the opposing party. The person who serves the paperwork then files an affidavit with the court to show the Judge that the paperwork was served.
- Temporary Orders: Your attorney may elect to file what is commonly known as a motion for temporary orders. This is a motion that requests certain relief pending the conclusion of your case. For example, when there are children involved, the Judge can implement a temporary child custody schedule and child support amount. If one spouse will need financial support during the case, the Judge can order temporary spousal support. If there is an income disparity between the parties, the lower-earning spouse can also request that the other party pay a portion of their attorney’s fees.
- In cases involving minor children, the Judge will likely order you and your spouse to engage in mediation before making temporary orders.
- Financial Disclosure Forms: “Discovery” is the legal term for information-gathering during a court case. Nevada Rule of Civil Procedure 16.2 governs discovery in divorce cases. Within 30 days of service of the answer and counterclaim, both parties are required to file Financial Disclosure Forms. These are court-issued forms that outline a person’s income, expenses, property, and debts. The Judge will rely heavily on this form, so it is very important to take it seriously and fill it out as accurately as possible.
- Disclosures: “Initial Disclosures” are also due within 30 days of service of the answer and counterclaim. Initial disclosures are documents that both parties are required to give a copy of to the other side (if a copy is available to that party). Rule 16.2 contains a list of required documents, which include tax returns, bank and credit card statements, insurance policies, and other financial information.
- Discovery Requests: Rule 16.2 states that a party can start requesting discovery from the other party within 30 days after the service of the answer and counterclaim. There are several methods discovery that can be used to obtain information, including asking the other party to answer certain questions (Interrogatories), asking them to give you copies of certain documents (Requests for Production), and asking them to admit to certain things (Requests for Admissions). These methods are generally written in format. Depending upon the case, your attorney may also want to take the other party’s deposition, which means your attorney would sit, in person, with your spouse and his or her attorney and ask them questions in front of a court reporter. Your attorney may also want to depose other witnesses. Finally, a person can obtain discovery by sending subpoenas to different individuals and entities and asking them to send copies of documents.
- Pre-Trial Preparation: Most divorce cases settle before trial. Many do not, however, and many settle “on courthouse steps,” which means they can settle just before, or sometimes even in the middle of, a divorce trial. If your case does not settle a certain amount of time before trial and one or both parties does not want to extend the trial date, your attorney will need to begin preparing for trial. First, your attorney will need to file a pre-trial memorandum, which is a document that tells the Judge what you want him or her to order and why. Second, your attorney will have to compile trial exhibits and prepare to question you, the other party, and any other witnesses. You and the other party will need to tell each other which witnesses you plan to call to trial ahead of time, so there should be no “surprise witnesses” involved.
- Trial: A divorce trial is like a trial you would see on television, except that they are heard only by the Judge, not by a jury. Your attorney and the other attorney may give opening statements. The attorneys will then question you, your spouse, and any other witnesses on the stand and under oath and introduce the exhibits they believe are important to show the Judge. Finally, the attorneys will give closing arguments. The Judge can either issue a decision immediately, or, sometimes, the Judge will take everything into consideration and take some time to review things, then issue a written decision. The end of a trial presents some feeling of conclusion, but you’re not divorced yet.
- Post-Trial: After trial, the Judge will likely tell one of the attorneys to prepare a Decree of Divorce. This document formalizes the Judge’s orders and must contain certain legal boilerplate. Often, the Judge will tell one attorney to prepare the decree, and the other attorney to review and sign the decree. On rare occasions, the Judge will prepare the decree him or herself. After the decree has been prepared and signed by counsel, it is submitted to the Judge. The Judge will review it and make sure it is correct and contains all the required information. If it does not, the Judge will send it back to the attorney who prepared it and ask them to make certain changes. If everything is correct, the Judge will sign the decree of divorce. After the Judge signs it, the decree of divorce is filed with the court. The divorce is not final until the decree has been finalized – signed by the Judge, with the court’s file stamp in the upper right-hand corner.
It is obvious that divorce cases contain many nuances and require more than just a rudimentary knowledge of the procedural rules. An experienced family law attorney can help you navigate these nuances and provide important strategy and planning to help you obtain the best result possible in your case.