The Divorce Timeline below is a general summary based on King County Family Law Case Schedules for a litigation case. If you have a case pending in any county you must check your own Case Schedule and court rules.
General Phases of the Litigation Process
1) Filing of Petition for Dissolution of Marriage
Restraining Orders may be sought along with the filing of the Petition for Dissolution. This event causes the Timeline to begin.
2) Temporary Arrangements/ Temporary Orders phase.
Either by agreement or through a court hearing your finances must be organized throughout the divorce process so that everyone can live and pay their bills, including attorney’s fees and the residences of the children must be organized. If a court hearing is required the person who files the Motion for Temporary Orders must give the other person 14 days’ notice. There must be a response filed by the responding party and a reply filed by the person who initiated the hearing. This phase of organizing how finances and the children will be handled during the divorce process can take 1 to 2 months from the date the Petition for Dissolution is filed.
3) Discovery phase.
During this phase of the process you are developing your case and finding out information from your spouse or partner such as their earnings history, list of assets and liabilities and values of each, monthly expenses. Financial experts are hired and do their work during this phase. Many issues to do with parenting after the divorce are explored during this time if parenting is not agreed upon. Mental health evaluations, court parenting experts and others are involved during this time if necessary. This phase takes 5-7 months.
4) Settlement phase.
After you have sufficient information to come to an agreement you analyze all of the information, prepare mediation materials and attend mediation to try to resolve the financial and parenting issues. In a family law litigation case this is usually a one day, 8 hour mediation. This is not the same as using mediation throughout your divorce to resolve the issues. See our page The Four Kinds of Divorce for a description of using mediation throughout the process, not just a one day mediation. This phase takes 1-2 months in litigation cases.
5) Trial Preparation phase.
If you have not settled your case at mediation you must organize the information you are going to present to the judge, organize all documents you collected during the discovery phase and prepare your testimony and the testimony of other witnesses who will come to the trial. This phase takes 1-2 months.
6) Trial phase.
On the date set forth on your Case Schedule you will appear at court prepared to address the judge and explain to the judge what you want the judge to order and why. Trials generally last 1 or 2 days to 2 weeks, if there are complex financial and parenting issues.
Forms and Court Deadline After Filing the Petition for Dissolution
A divorce is started by filing a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage. There are other forms that must be filed at the same time.When you file a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage you will get a Case Schedule that gives you all of the forms that have to be filed and deadlines you must meet.
The other party must be notified that you have filed the Petition for Dissolution. This is done by having a third person hand the papers to him or her, called “serving” the other person. Or, you can give the papers to your spouse or partner and they can sign an Acceptance of Service which is filed with the court letting the court know that the person has received the paperwork.
The other party must file a Response within 20 days of being served or signing an Acceptance of Service. In the Response the person tells the court if they agree with the statements in the Petition for Dissolution and they ask for whatever relief they want the court to provide them.
All parents who have children under the age of 18 must attend a Parenting Seminar within 90 days after the Petition for Dissolution is filed.
A form called Confirmation of Issues must be filed around 90 days after the Petition for Dissolution is filed. This informs the court that the case is on track procedurally and there are no problems with necessary court forms. This form also informs the court if there is pending mediation and if there are special issues involved with the children. If a Confirmation of Issues is not filed then the parties must appear before the judge at a Status Conference to discuss the matters above.
Beginning about 8 months after the Petition for Dissolution is filed you must begin to disclose the names of all witnesses you intend to call at trial and what they will testify about.
If you need to change your trial date there is a deadline for doing that which is about 2 months before your trial date.
You can gather information from the other person (Discovery phase above) until 6 weeks before the trial date. After that, the Discovery Cutoff Date, you cannot formally ask the other person or third parties to provide information to you.
You must engage in mediation one month before your trial date.
If you have not settled your case informally or in mediation then you have to appear before the trial judge, testify about your case and bring witnesses to testify about important financial and parenting issues. This is the trial that finalizes all issues in your divorce and ends your marriage.
Meditation, Cooperative and Collaborative Law Case Timelines
In cases using mediation, cooperative law and collaborative law the parties go through most of the phases described above but in a much less formal manner and sometimes in reverse order to what is shown above. For example, often the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage is not filed until after the parties have reached agreement on most issues.
To resolve any case, information must be collected. Information forms the basis for agreements on finances and parenting issues. To resolve financial issues you must have income information for both spouses, what each person’s monthly living expenses will be, what assets exist to divide and what the debts are. In the family law litigation process this is done in a formal way through what is called “discovery”. In litigation cases this is done through a series of legal procedures and documents prepared by attorneys. In cases using mediation, cooperative law or collaborative law this information is exchanged voluntarily and informally in meetings with the mediator or attorneys.
To resolve issues concerning parenting of children sometimes evaluations by trained mental health professionals is helpful. In litigation cases, again, this is a formal process and the recommendations of a Parenting Evaluator or Guardian ad Litem are often very persuasive to the court if the court is making a decision about parenting issues. In cases using mediation, cooperative law or collaborative law input of a mental health professional is informal and not usually written. The professional often comes to meetings to offer suggestions for resolving parenting issues.
After all of the information is gathered, people using mediation, cooperative law and collaborative law work to reach agreements that satisfy both people’s needs. No agreement is perfect but the agreement needs to be acceptable to both people. It is not always possible to reach agreements through mediation, cooperative law or collaborative law processes. When agreement is not possible then parties may try other informal processes or they may decide the only way they can resolve the issues is through litigation.
Consult with a professional and organized Seattle divorce attorney at Integrative Family Law
Divorce proceedings can seem overwhelming, but having an experienced, professional, and organized divorce lawyer on your side will help. Call us at 206.859.6800.
Nothing on this page is intended as legal advice for an individual.
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