Thursday, July 05, 2007

Getting Ready for Divorce Court

The process may vary depending upon what state you are in but it generally will go something like this: on your first court date you will be assigned a judge who will preside over your case. At this preliminary conference the judge will consult with both attorneys, and set deadlines for each stage of the divorce. At this conference the court will look at the information gathered by both sides, and the legal process of the divorce will begin. At this time the judge will probably set amounts of child and spousal support. These are the amounts your spouse is to pay from now until the divorce is final. This is often referred to as pendente lite (pronounced “pendentay leetay”) support, meaning “pending decision”. Although these amounts aren’t automatically those that you will receive once the divorce is final, they are crucial in their importance. Whatever the judge says now will set an informal precedent for what happens later. You want these amounts to be at or above your final goal.

Make sure that the court directs your spouse to send these payments to your local child support enforcement agency. They will forward the payments to you, and keep track of what is owed. Always go through this agency. Although they may be slow with enforcement, they have the ability to garnish your spouses’ wages and bank accounts and enforce bench warrants. If your spouse falls behind in payments you will be able to utilize this agency instead of having to pay your attorney to enforce support collection. Some states, however, will not permit this arrangement unless there is a history of non-payment, preferring to let the parties handle it themselves.

As in any court trial, divorce will have a discovery phase. In a divorce this is when each party is required to disclose proof of all finances. You will also have to answer the Interrogatories. This is a long questionnaire asking for detailed information about your finances and other marital issues. These will identify issues of disagreement that must be brought before the judge. Remember, the more problems you need the judge to fix, the more court dates you will have to attend and every time you go to court you pile up legal fees.

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