The impending termination of a marriage is one of the most emotional and challenging events that a person may go through. Many people who are facing the ultimate demise of a marital relationship have feelings of sadness, frustration, anger, betrayal and fear. A major contributing factor to fear is that people don’t know what to expect from the divorce procedure.
Apart from terminating the marriage relationship, there are additional issues which may need to be addressed in a divorce. These include:
- Physical and legal custody of minor children
- Parent-time with minor children
- Child Support
- Division of assets accumulated during the marriage
- Division of debts accumulated during the marriage
- Spousal Support
- Tax issues
Every divorce matter begins with the filing of a petition for divorce with the court. In Utah, a party seeking a divorce (i.e. the petitioner) must file the petition in the county where either spouse has resided for the three months immediately prior to the filing. The petition for divorce identifies the spouses, provides some background information on the marriage and family, and then makes a request as to how the issues listed above should be resolved. The petitioner then causes the petition to be personally delivered to the opposing party, referred to as the respondent. Upon receiving the petition, the respondent has 20 days (30 days if the petition was delivered to the respondent out-of-state) to file a response, called an answer, with the Court. If the respondent fails to respond within the appropriate timeframe, the court can award the petitioner whatever relief was requested in the petition.
Once the divorce case has begun, the issues listed above can be addressed and resolved by the parties (i.e. the petitioner and the respondent) through a settlement or they can be decided by a judge through the process of a trial. Regardless of whether the parties settle their case or the judge makes a decision, when the divorcing parties have minor children they must participate in a state-approved divorce education and orientation course. This course must be completed before the divorce can be finalized.
One method for settling a divorce case is mediation. In fact, Utah law requires that parties participate in one mediation session before the judge will make a final ruling on any disputed matters. Mediation involves a meeting with neutral third party, oftentimes a former judge or an experienced attorney who has received extensive training, who helps the parties resolve the contested issues. If the parties are able to resolve the case through mediation, a written settlement agreement and other paperwork are prepared and filed with the court to finalize the divorce process.
If the parties are unable to resolve their case through mediation, then the divorce matter moves towards a trial where the judge will decide the issues based on evidence presented by the parties. Prior to the trial, each party will request from and share with the other party information and documents in a process called “discovery.” The discovery process can be quite extensive, as well as expensive. The purpose of conducting discovery is for the parties to gather evidence and prepare their case for trial. At the trial, each party will be permitted to present documents, question witnesses, and argue their case to the judge. Upon hearing all of the evidence, the judge will decide the outcome of the case.
As you can see, the process can become fairly burdensome and/or complicated. A skilled attorney will navigate his or her clients around the pitfalls and mines that are all along the path of a divorce case. Having an attorney allows parties to a divorce case to be educated on the process, which will help to ease their fears and concerns.
Jared G. Brande is a founding member of the law firm of Gurr & Brande, PLLC in St. George, Utah. Mr. Brande has been practicing family law in St. George since 2007.