Wendy Hernandez, a family law attorney in Phoenix, AZ and founder of Command the Courtroom, explains what to expect when you need a court to settle a family dispute like a divorce or custody of children.
The case is started when someone files a petition or complaint in court. Depending on the state, the person may be called the petitioner or the plaintiff.
The other person against whom the petition is raised is the respondent or defendant. A defendant has to respond to the complaint or motion within set deadlines. The response time varies between states, so it is best to consult your local attorneys or court documents. If the respondent does not respond in time, the plaintiff will get all they requested.
Once the response is logged, the discovery phase of the case starts. During discovery, the parties exchange and disclose information. Each party gathers evidence they want to use to support their arguments. Complex cases arise where parties own multiple businesses, they’ve been married for a long time, spousal maintenance is an issue, or the partners cannot agree on custody of children.
To resolve the case, parties can reach a compromise by drawing up a consent decree or a dissolution or consent judgment. The consent decree notes all the agreements reached that were signed by both the plaintiff and the respondent. The family law attorney also signs the consent decree. The agreement is then presented to the judge and hopefully gets approved if the judge feels the agreements reached are fair and equitable to all parties and in the children’s best interest.
If there are issues that agreement cannot be reached, the case goes to trial, and the judge makes the final call.