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Family Law

What is involved in a divorce or a paternity suit?

I was just served with papers for divorce or paternity. What is going on?
What is involved in a divorce or paternity case?
Can my ex take my kids away from me?
How much will child support be?
How will we divide our property and debts?
Can I get maintenance or alimony?
My ex is not following the parenting plan. What can I do?
How can I change my parenting plan?

A divorce is more than just the termination of a marriage. If you have children, the court will need to establish appropriate provisions for the custody, visitation and support of these children. If you and your spouse have acquired property or debts during your marriage, the court will have to decide how to fairly divide this property and debt. The court may also need to consider if one spouse should pay the other maintenance or alimony and if one spouse should cover the other’s attorney fees.

If you were not married to the petitioner, but you have a child with the petitioner, then you were probably sued in a paternity action. In a paternity action, the court must first determine whether one of the parties in the suit is the father of the child.

A divorce or paternity suit begins when one person (the petitioner) files a petition with the court. A petition states the facts which the petitioner intends to prove and requests the court to take some specified action. In order for the court to be able act, the person being sued (the respondent) must be given notice of the suit and have an opportunity to be heard. This happens when the respondent is served. If the respondent takes no action within thirty days of service, the petitioner can ask the court for a default judgment after hearing from the petitioner alone. If, however, the respondent files an answer (a document which addresses the petition by letting the court know which facts are admitted and which are contested), then the court will give the parties sufficient time to conduct discovery, go through mediation and if necessary prepare for a trial.

Discovery is a process whereby the parties can send each other interrogatories (written questions to be answered) and request documents from each other. The discovery process reveals to both sides the evidence supporting each party’s position. It is possible that the parties may want to take each other’s deposition. A deposition is a hearing, typically held in a lawyer’s conference room, where a lawyer can ask questions of a witness under oath in front of a court reporter.

Oftentimes, after discovery has revealed the facts of the case, the parties have a much better picture of each other’s position and motivations. Assumptions and guesses are replaced by facts and evidence. The attorneys will start to get a picture of what may happen at trial. This can lead to the parties coming together and settling the case on their own terms. If the parties cannot reach a settlement on their own, the court will likely order mediation.

At a typical mediation, the parties and the attorneys will meet with a mediator (usually a judge) who will put the parties in different rooms. The mediator will try and work out a deal between the parties. An impartial mediator can speak to the parties in ways that the attorneys who are paid to represent a party cannot.

If after discovery and mediation, the parties cannot reach an agreement, the court will hear each party’s evidence at a trial and will make a decision.