Generally what family law cases are going to look like from start to finish including important legal terms.*
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These are some of the important Legal Terms I am going to go over along with their definitions: petition, file a petition, motion, complaint, petitioner, plaintiff, respondent, defendant, being served, discovery phase, consent decree of dissolution , consent judgment, mediation
To get a family law case started somebody has to file a petition in court and a petition might also be known as a motion or a complaint. Regardless of what is called in your jurisdiction whoever filed the petition is often called the petitioner. That is the person petitioning the court and there are some jurisdictions where the petitioner might be called the plaintiff.
The person who has not petitioned the court is called the respondent or the defendant. That person is the one who is receiving the petitioners ie being served with the petition. If you are the respondent in a family law case and you have been served with some sort of petition or complaint or motion you have to be aware that there are usually certain deadlines by when you have to
respond. If you don’t respond in a timely basis then it’s very likely that the petitioner or the plaintiff is going to get all of the relief that they’re asking for.
To figure out what that the time deadlines are in your state i would check your local rules or consult with a family law attorney.
Once the petition has been served and the respondent has responded then you enter the part of the case that is called the discovery phase and this is where parties are exchanging & disclosing information with each other They’re letting each other know what the their respective theories of the case are with the evidence that they are going to use to support the case.
The length of the discovery process really depends on the issues in the case and also just depends on your judge and the jurisdiction. Sometimes cases are really simple & there are not a lot of issues or they are very straightforward. In those cases I would say the discovery time could be pretty short.
In cases where there are serious issues: the parties had multiple businesses, multiple pieces of land, they’ve been married for quite a long time, the spousal maintenance was an issue, there may have been child custody issue, their mental health issues. If you want to shorten the amount of time that it takes to resolve the case then you can do your part by attempting to work with the other another party and compromise on issues that are important. You have to work the case and you may end up having to try the case but if you do ending end up working the case out then you and the other side would prepare what’s called a consent decree of dissolution or consent judgment. If you’re not doing the divorce and you submit the consent judgment or the stipulation to the court for the court’s approval. In this paperwork you would have all of the agreements that you’ve reached with the other party and normally you and the other party with both signed the agreement and if there are attorneys involved they would sign the agreement.
The judge hopefully would approve it if the judge found that the it was in the best interest of the children and if the judge found that the agreement was fair & equitable.
If there are some issues that you agree on but there are other issues you do not agree on it is possible to reach agreements in writing or on the record & on those issues you’re on the same page with the other party & respect to the issues that you don’t have an agreement or if you can’t reach an agreement on those and you end up in trial you end up in front of a judge and the judge has to make the final call.
If a response is filed and the parties agree then they must submit the agreement to the court for approval. If the party’s can’t agree then they end up going to trial. Keep in mind that as a case is pending you actually can try to settle it through alternative dispute resolution which is also known as mediation or by going to a settlement conference or in your jurisdiction there maybe services available through the court. Always try to resolve your case if you can.
Wendy Hernandez is a family law attorney in Phoenix, AZ and founder of Command the Courtroom.
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