Divorce Roadmap: The Route Around the Legal System
Let's look at how a divorce case works so you can see what you face and how you can beat the legal system. The legal divorce process is similar in all states, but there are two common sets of terms. In this article, I use the first set.
Spouse who starts the divorce = Petitioner or Plaintiff
All divorces start with a Petition and end with a Judgment. The Petition sets out in very general terms what the facts and issues are and what the Petitioner wants. After being filed with the court, it is served on the other spouse to give notice that the case has started. The Petition is a simple, standard document. Filing and serving it is not complicated.
The other spouse can now file a Response if he or she wants to be involved in the legal process. This has to be done within a stated time, typically 30 days after the Petition is served. The Response is similar to the Petition, a simple document that is easy to do. The effect of the Response is simply to get the other spouse into the case on an equal footing with the Petitioner.
If a Response is filed, the case is "contested." If there is no Response, it is assumed that the Respondent concedes all issues according to the broad terms of the Petition and the case is "uncontested." If the couple has made a written marital settlement agreement before the Petition is filed, there won't be any reason for the second spouse to enter the case.
As you can see, there are only three ways you can go through the legal system from Petition to Judgment:
Contested and uncontested divorces are dramatically different:
Any contested case can become uncontested if one spouse simply drops out of the contest or if the spouses reach an agreement--the earlier, the cheaper. However, when you are represented by attorneys, it is much more difficult to reach agreement. When negotiations are conducted through attorneys, it is typical for a case to drag on and on and run up large attorneys' fees before it settles.
Advantages to a Legal Contest
It might seem odd after all I've said, but there are some advantages to a contested divorce in some cases:
If you have to fight, Divorce Solutions: How to Make Any Divorce Better (the book from which this article was excerpted) discusses how to run a controlled battle effectively and how to avoid some of the worst disadvantages.
The disadvantages to a legal contest, however, are truly impressive:
Now that you know the route around the legal system for a divorce, you are ready for my article Divorce--How to Beat the System.
Ed Sherman is a family law attorney, divorce expert, and founder of Nolo Press. He started the self-help law movement in 1971 when he published the first edition of How to Do Your Own Divorce, and founded the paralegal industry in 1973. With more than a million books sold, Ed has saved the public billions of dollars in legal fees while making divorce go more smoothly and easily for millions of readers. You can order his books from http://www.nolodivorce.com or by calling (800) 464-5502.
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