You or your spouse have filed for divorce – now what?
If you or your spouse have filed a Petition for Divorce – or if you know that one of you will be filing in the near future – you may find yourself in an awkward and ambiguous holding pattern while you await your initial court appearance. Once the Petition has been filed, the Court will typically assign you a court date to address certain so-called “incidental” issues, such as custody of your children, child support, spousal support, and use of the family home. Depending on the Court’s docket, that court date is usually set four to six weeks after the filing date. So how do you handle those “incidentals” in the meantime? A few tips:
1. To the extent possible, try to reach a short-term agreement with your spouse, with the understanding that whatever agreement you reach is not binding. Rather, it is just to tide you over until you can appear before your Judge or Hearing Officer on your assigned court date. For obvious reasons, this is especially important when it comes to custody.
Because you and your spouse will not yet have a formal Order in place to dictate who has custody on what days, who pays the bills, etc., this period can easily become contentious and chaotic. It is an unfortunate but unavoidable part of the process that boundaries and expectations are undefined during this period. However difficult it may be, working with your spouse to reach a temporary agreement – that you both stick to – will make this transition as easy and inexpensive as it can possibly be.
Unfortunately, it may not always be possible to reach such an agreement. Again, bear in mind that you will only have to wait a few weeks until a more formal and final arrangement is determined by the Court. Also, take heart that courts generally react favorably to those parties that have behaved reasonably and cooperatively prior to the court appearance, and can react harshly with parties who have been difficult.
2. During this waiting period, you should begin gathering documents that could be used in support of your arguments on your day in Court. Keep in mind that the documentation that will be relevant to your case will vary depending on your particular set of circumstances and issues.
Particularly when custody is an issue, you should be vigilant about documenting the interactions between you and your spouse. This means keeping records of all text messages and emails, and keeping a log of all visitations and phone calls with the children. You may never need this documentation, but it is better to be safe than sorry.
Also remember that while you are documenting, your spouse likely is as well. Assume that every text message and email and voice mail you send is being saved and will be used as evidence in court. In other words, before sending that angry text, consider whether you would be proud to have it read aloud in front of your Judge. If not, rephrase it or don’t send it.
You should also keep records relating to your finances, particularly if child and/or spousal support is an issue. This means keeping records of all expenses – yours and the children’s – as well as has who paid for those expenses, and records of any money paid directly to or received from the other spouse.
Again, depending on your circumstances, you may also consider gathering school records, medical records, police reports, etc.
3. In certain extreme situations, you may not be able to wait the typical four to six weeks for a court date, particularly if there is some sort of immediate risk of harm to you or the children. If so, you may be able to file for a hearing on an emergency basis, seeking an immediate hearing date. Because these rare situations tend to be more contentious and legally complex, you should retain an attorney, if you’ve not already done so, to file those pleadings.
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