While upwards of 95% of all cases settle short of trial, the most expensive and acrimonious manner of resolving your differences with your spouse is through a formal trial - and perhaps nowhere is the retention of skilled counsel more important. Trial involves extensive study of all facts and evidence relevant to your case, extensive preparation of witnesses for testimony, extensive preparation to conduct examination (questioning) of witnesses, extension preparation of exhibits summarizing your position as to the evidence, hopefully in a form understandable and convincing to the trial judge, strategy as to what witnesses will be called and in what order, as well as the actual trial examination of witnesses, which often, especially when "cross examining" opposing witnesses, requires the lawyer to think on their feet, and prepare questions on the spot as they hear evasive or unexpected answers.
The Petitioner must personally serve the Respondent (non-filing party) with the Summons and Petition, unless a Joint Petition is filed. The Respondent has 30 days to answer the Petition. In the case of service by publication, the 30 day time period does not begin until the expiration of the period allowed for publication. In the case of a Counter-Petition for dissolution or legal separation to a Petition for Dissolution or Legal Separation, no Answer to the Counter-Petition is required, and the original Petitioner is deemed to have denied each and every statement, allegation and claim in the Counter-Petition.
If both parties are in agreement that you want to mediate, you could take a look at our Agreement to Mediate, and any party could call to schedule an appointment. We offer a flat fee arrangement, at a discount from our standard hourly rate, for a mediation session that is typically three hours in length and can include a written summary, if paid in full in advance. We also offer hourly mediation rates, that are to be paid in full on the day of mediation.
If you were served with a "Summons and Petition" (you are the Respondent), you should talk to an attorney before you sign the "Answer and Counterpetition," and before you sign a "Stipulated Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, Order for Judgment and Judgment and Decree" (which is an agreement with your spouse on how to divide all assets and debts).
The small hourly cost for the attorney’s time is well worth the expense as it helps the client to make decisions and thereby move the mediation forward. In addition, at the point in the process when the parties have finalized all their agreements and a draft Separation Agreement is prepared, it is advisable that both parties review that agreement with their own attorney before they sign it. After all, this document will have lasting impact on their finances, their children, and their lives for some time to come, and it is prudent and wise to be sure that they both fully understand the terms in the agreement and that it accurately reflect their wishes.
In conclusion, my advice to fathers is that they should not despair. If the children would be better off in the father’s custody, that is worth fighting for, and is winnable. I have gotten many fathers custody, even in the most dismal of predicaments. For mothers, my advice is to take nothing for granted. Against a determined father, the loss of custody is a very real possibility which you should take very seriously if custody is important to you.
Very few things in any family law issue are black-and-white. Our job is to step back and help you look at the larger picture in terms of what you have to get out of your divorce versus what might be emotionally driven. We sit down with you to discuss whether what you are asking for is worth pursuing and how a judge might handle a situation if your case ends up in litigation.
In almost all cases, you will be required to attempt some form of alternative dispute resolution. This will typically take the form of "mediation" which is a process in which a neutral third party, typically an attorney trained in mediation, will attempt to assist the parties in reaching their own compromise settlement of some or all issues between the parties. The mediator does not make decisions, but rather facilitates a discussion between the parties (sometimes alone and sometimes with the assistance of counsel) aimed at reaching settlement of your issues. The mediation process is confidential, and if you are not successful in reaching a mediated settlement, the judicial officer will never learn what positions either party took in mediation. As part of the mediation process, the mediator will request both parties provide an accurate summary of income, assets and liabilities. It is recognized that sometimes, one party controls some or all of this information, and skilled mediators attempt to assure that there is a full and fair disclosure of financial information, and a full and fair discussion of the issues.
Without taking sides, a divorce mediator works with you and your partner to negotiate a settlement that is in the best interest of you and your family. Typically, a divorce mediator helps you better understand and communicate your individual and common interests so that you can explore reasonable options, make good decisions and reach solid agreements that benefit your family.
If the parties are hostile or overly emotional, the mediator will separate the parties and shuttle back and forth between them in "private caucuses." A private caucus is a conference between the mediator and one party, without the other party being present. The mediator passes offers and demands between the parties. Conversations between a party and the mediator during private caucus are confidential unless a party authorizes the mediator to disclose information to the other side.
Mediation is non-binding. This means that the mediator has no authority to force either party to agree to anything at all. Too often people come to me after the fact, complaining that the mediator forced them to agree to something. Just remember that no matter how much they may try to tell you that your position is unreasonable, or that the Court would never side with you, you do NOT need to agree to whatever it is they are pushing for.
Typically the SENE will involve both parties, both attorneys, and two court-appointed custody evaluators. Usually three hours is blocked for a session. During the session, each party (and his or her attorney) is given the opportunity to explain what they would like for a custody and parenting time arrangement, and why. Questions from the evaluators are asked and answered. Then there is a break while the evaluators confer. Then the meeting reconvenes and recommendations are given and explained, whereupon the parties discuss settlement.
Remember that even though your children may be small today, as they grow up your roles as parents will change. You may have to consult with each other on important life decisions such as medical needs, or see each other at milestones like graduations, weddings, and the birth of your grandchildren. Learning to effectively co-parent early on will help you years down the road.
The number of times you go to court and see a Judge or Referee depends on local court procedures and whether you and your spouse can agree on issues regarding your children, property and other matters. If you do NOT agree, the case usually takes longer to finish. It is a good idea to get legal advice before finalizing an agreement with your spouse.