Divorcing couples who are in agreement on all issues may find the divorce process much easier to understand and navigate than those who will need court intervention to decide some or all of the issues in their divorce. This is simply because contested divorces require extra steps that divorce by agreement does not. However, once familiar with the basic process, it is not difficult to fill in the additional steps necessary when you and your spouse cannot agree on all of the issues. This blog discusses the divorce process in Indianapolis step by step.
The very first step anyone considering a divorce should take is to talk to their spouse about the issues that will be involved and how they would like to settle each. The basic issues that need to be addressed during a divorce are property (asset and debt) division, child custody, parenting time, and support, and in some cases, spousal maintenance, frequently referred to as alimony. If an agreement on all issues can be reached, you may choose to file the divorce, using court prescribed forms, without hiring attorneys. It is recommended that you consult with an attorney before proceeding on your own, as there may be legal issues of which you are unaware and a family law attorney can help ensure that your rights are protected. Even when a full agreement cannot be reached, this discussion will help you understand where the disagreements are so that the issues can be narrowed down for the court.
The next step in any Indianapolis divorce is to prepare and file the petition for dissolution of marriage, summons, and if needed, motion for provisional hearing and proposed order setting the hearing. You will need to pay the court’s filing fee of $185 at the time of filing (Indiana State Board of Accounts). Once the documents are accepted by the court, the summons will be served on your spouse to make them aware that you have filed for divorce. If a provisional hearing was requested, the order setting that hearing will be served along with the summons. Provisional hearings are generally requested when there are issues that need to be resolved temporarily until a final hearing can be scheduled. Provisional orders can provide for temporary maintenance, temporary support or custody of a child of the marriage entitled to support, and possession of property (I.C. 31-15-4-1).
For those without any contested issues who have reached a full agreement, the last step is to file the agreement, waiver of final hearing, and decree of dissolution of marriage for the judges signature. These should not be filed until it has been at least 60 days since the date of filing of the petition for dissolution (I.C. 31-15-2-13). The 60 day wait is often referred to as a “cooling off period” and while the length of time varies from state to state, every state has a cooling off period in order to deter couples from filing for divorce simply out of anger. Once you receive your signed decree of dissolution in the mail, you are officially divorced.
If you have contested issues and will not be filing an agreement or waiver of final hearing, the third step in the divorce process is to conduct discovery and comply with any of the other party’s discovery requests. Discovery allows the parties to collect documents, information, and statements from one another that may be used to prepare for a final hearing or as evidence at final hearing (American Bar Association). The two most used methods of discovery in a divorce are interrogatories and requests for production of documents. Questions contained in interrogatories must be answered under oath and returned to the other party within 30 days (Ind. Trial. Proc. R 33). When the parties have minor children, interrogatories generally ask about the
home and home environment and your parenting beliefs and style, and may also include questions about any specific incident(s) with the child. Common questions include how many bedrooms are in your home, who else lives there, what methods of discipline you use, and which party was/has been the primary care-giver for the children. Questions may also ask for financial information, such as if you own any interest in property or a business, what the names and addresses of all financial institutions where you hold an account are, or if you have any retirement or pension accounts. Financial information in most cases, however, is obtained through a request for production of documents, which requires that you collect all of the documents requested and serve them on the other party within 30 days (Ind. Trial Proc. R 34). Once discovery is complete, the parties usually attempt to negotiate a settlement agreement one last time now that they each have all the necessary information.
If an agreement still cannot be reached, the fourth step is to ask the court for a final hearing and then get prepared for it. The hearing will need to be requested by filing a written motion for final hearing. If you need more than an hour for the hearing, it is best to let the court know how much time you believe you will need. To prepare for the hearing you should make a list of both yours and your spouses witnesses and what questions you need to ask them, organize any tangible evidence you will be asking to have admitted, and prepare and file with the court any subpoenas that you need issued. If there are any legal arguments that you wish to make or anticipate your spouse making, you should also do some research and have those arguments ready, with citations to any statutes, rules, or case law you intend to mention in order to support your argument.
The fifth and last step is to attend the final hearing and wait for the judge’s decision if it is not given at the end of the hearing. Due to the complexities of trial procedure and the rules of evidence, which dictate things such as when and how to get tangible evidence admitted at hearing, what you are and are not allowed to ask a witness, and when and how to make an objection, it is not advisable that you represent yourself at a final hearing.
If you are in the process of divorce in Indianapolis, the experienced attorneys at Ciyou & Associates, P.C. can guide you through your final hearing while helping to ensure that your rights are protected and you get the best possible outcome.