Divorce is different for everyone who experiences it. No two marriages are exactly alike, so the divorce process will play out differently for every couple that undergoes it, even if their reasons for divorce are similar. Typically, divorcing spouses want to get the process over with as quickly as possible, but this is not always an option. While alternative dispute resolution methods like mediation are the more popular option for handling divorce in the US, the reality is that litigation is often unavoidable.
If you are preparing for divorce in Springfield, MO and are unsure how it will unfold, your best resource for advice is an experienced Springfield, MO divorce attorney. Most modern divorce attorneys in the US strongly encourage their clients toward mediation and other forms of alternative dispute resolution, but several factors can potentially prevent this from being a viable option in your situation.
When Divorce Litigation Is Unavoidable
Sometimes, a couple cannot begin alternative dispute resolution, or their chosen method of alternative dispute resolution does not yield the results they expected. There are several reasons you may be forced into divorce litigation, including:
- Unwillingness to compromise. Sometimes, the personal tension between divorcing spouses is too strong for them to be willing to negotiate in alternative dispute resolution. It’s vital to try and retain objectivity as much as possible through this difficult process, even when you feel as though your spouse does not deserve civility due to past bad behavior.
- Difficult financial issues. Some marriages involve very complex assets and property ownership questions the couple cannot negotiate on their own. Some divorces will require a formal litigation process to ensure fair and reasonable outcomes.
- Fraud. If one spouse accuses the other of fraud in the financial disclosure phase of divorce mediation, the couple may need to move to litigation to fully explore the issue and ensure a fair property division result under Missouri state law.
- Domestic violence and other criminal behavior. If a marriage is ending because one of the spouses broke the law, abused the other spouse, or harmed the couple’s children, their divorce case is unlikely to leave any room for alternative dispute resolution, and the divorce will also likely run in tandem with criminal proceedings against the offending spouse.
- The couple agrees to some, but not all, of the issues their divorce entails. It is not uncommon for a divorcing couple to attempt mediation and resolve some of their issues privately before reaching an impasse that demands litigation.
These are just a few examples of how you could potentially face divorce litigation without any other alternative. If you must endure divorce litigation, the process is going to be more time consuming and expensive than mediation or other forms of alternative dispute resolution will be, and you should know what to expect from the process.
The Preliminary Phase and Discovery
A divorce case plays out in family court similar to the way many civil claims unfold. Instead of a Complaint filed by a plaintiff, the divorce case begins when a spouse files a divorce petition with their local family court. There is a long-standing misconception that being the first to file for divorce provides a tactical advantage in divorce proceedings, but this is not true. It does not matter which spouse files for divorce. The court will process the petition and serve divorce papers to the other spouse, providing them the opportunity to respond.
Divorce litigation unfolds when the couple does not agree to terms for their divorce at first. This is a “contested” divorce, and the goal of divorce litigation or alternative dispute resolution is to transition the divorce to an “uncontested” state.
The couple will receive instructions from the court regarding their first appearance, and then their respective attorneys will begin the disclosure process. This process entails a sharing of evidence and documentation for use in litigation. In most divorces, discovery is defined as financial disclosure, but some divorce cases will entail additional evidence that pertains to non-financial matters.
During divorce litigation, the divorcing spouses and their respective attorneys will appear at family court as required. They will each have the chance to testify on certain issues, offer evidence related to the various factors of their divorce, and call witnesses, if necessary.
Depending on the finer details of the divorce case, one or both spouses and their attorneys may call expert witnesses into the courtroom to testify about certain aspects of the case. If a divorce case involves any issues that require professional interpretation, expert witnesses can play substantial roles in divorce proceedings.
Once witness testimony concludes and other pretrial motions are handled, the actual trial unfolds. The parties can make their arguments, and the judge may ask a few questions of each of them. The attorneys may also cross-examine the spouses. After all, evidence has been submitted for consideration, and the judge has all the information they need, they will deliver a ruling.
The Results of Divorce Litigation
Similar to any other civil case, the results of divorce litigation are firmly within the hands of the judge overseeing the matter. This is one of the biggest risks of pursuing divorce litigation; even if you believe a trial will yield a result that is more favorable to you, there is no guarantee the judge will see things the same way that you do. When you litigate your divorce, the final result is entirely up to the judge, and you are unlikely to secure a divorce resolution that suits your needs and personal preferences as closely as a mediated result could.
The litigation process is notoriously stressful and expensive. Litigation takes longer and requires more work from your attorney, so you are going to pay much more in legal fees than you would in alternative dispute resolution. Ultimately, it is best to avoid divorce litigation whenever possible, but if this is not an option for you, having the right Springfield, MO divorce lawyer on your side can be a tremendous asset in this challenging situation. If you are certain that your marriage is ending and you are unsure how it will play out, it’s best to contact an experienced Springfield, MO divorce attorney as soon as possible to start working on your case.