The Process of Divorce: Major Phases
The three stages of divorce are: the emotional divorce, the financial divorce, and the legal divorce. The parties of the marriage should complete the emotional divorce before the financial and legal divorce can be easily resolved. If one of the parties has not worked through the emotions of the divorce, he or she won’t peacefully resolve the division of assets, liabilities, and child custody issues. If the parties recognize that marriage is a contract with the state and the state has an interest in the termination of the contract, the process of divorce would be much simpler.
The financial divorce occurs when the parties are financially independent. This does not mean one person may be responsible for the support of minor children or a party. However, this means both parties have an understanding of the “spreadsheet” of the marriage. This spreadsheet includes all of the assets and liabilities of the marriage, as well as an understanding of the financial realities in the jurisdiction which they reside.
The legal divorce is when the judge signs the final paperwork and the marriage is dissolved. This result is either a Journal Entry of Divorce, or a Judgment of Decree of Dissolution. If the parties have completed the emotional divorce, then the legal divorce is very anticlimactic. In a settled matter they will have completed what is commonly referred to as a separation and property settlement agreement. If there are children then the agreement will have some form of parenting plan. Parenting agreements recite the custody and parenting time of the minor children, child support, educational issue, medical treatment for the minor children and other child related issues. The separation and property settlement agreement typically divides the assets (property) of the parties, debts (liabilities) of the parties, and maintenance or alimony issues. These agreements must be believed to be fair and equitable by the parties and the court for the court to approve and adopt the agreement. Generally a court hearing will be required to review the proposed parenting plan and separation and property settlement agreement. At this court hearing the attorney will question the petitioner as to the correctness of the facts alleged in the petition and the agreements. At the conclusion of the ten to fifteen minute hearing, the court will grant the divorce. One or both parties may attend the hearing with their attorney’s or pro se, (without an attorney). If the emotional divorce is not completed, the parties will have to try their case to a judge. The judge is the only person in the courtroom who has not spent the last several months preparing for the issues between the parties. However, the judge is the person that makes the decision for the parties. A divorce trial may take an hour or several days, depending on the complexity of the issues. At the conclusion of the proceedings the court will make its ruling dividing the property, liabilities, and children. When this ruling is pronounced the parties will be divorced.