The decision to file for divorce is not an easy one. You may have a number of questions about the potential ramifications of a divorce. For example, who is supposed to move out of the marital home first? How will your finances be split? If children are involved, a host of other issues arise relating to custody, visitation, and child support. While there are many unknowns at the beginning of the divorce process, you don’t need to jump in blindly. If you are considering filing for divorce in Iowa, there are a few things that you can be certain to expect.
- The Petition for Dissolution of Marriage
When one person decides to move forward with a divorce action, the initiating document is called the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage. This document lays out certain information for the Court, such as the names of you and your spouse, the date of your marriage, whether kids are involved, and what you are asking the court to do. For example, in addition to dissolving the marriage, people will often ask the court to award temporary alimony, temporary custody of the children, or temporary child support.
When the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage is filed with the Court, the Court then issues what is called an Original Notice. The Original Notice informs your spouse that a divorce action has been filed and that if he or she does not respond to the Petition, the court may enter judgment against him or her by default. The Court will not move forward with your case until the Petition and Original Notice are formally served upon your spouse by a process server or a sheriff.
Either party may ask the court to pause the divorce action for sixty (60) days or less in order to give the parties a chance to reconcile. During the period of conciliation, the parties are ordered to attend marital counseling and attempt to work out their differences. If there is no chance that you and your spouse will get back together, then conciliation may be waived by both parties.
- Temporary Orders Hearing
If alimony, child support, or child custody is at issue, either spouse may request the Court to hold a Temporary Orders Hearing. This hearing is usually held within the first sixty days after the filing of the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage. At this hearing, each party will present evidence of the needs, obligations, expenses, and any income he or she may have. Generally, claims of child support and alimony are supported by written information provided to the Court in the form of a financial statement or affidavit. If child custody is an issue, the Court may hear testimony from the parties.
The next stage of the proceeding is a “discovery” period during which both sides attempt to collect all the information necessary for settlement discussions or trial. There are requirements for the automatic exchange of certain financial records, such as pay stubs, tax returns, and health insurance information. “Discovery” is also accomplished by formal legal devices such as interrogatories, requests for production of documents, and depositions. There are time limits for serving and responding to discovery requests that should be carefully monitored and observed.
Every family law case must go through mediation before the case can go to trial. Mediation is a process where a neutral third person (the mediator) attempts to help you and your spouse reach an agreement. The mediator cannot force anyone to settle the case. If the mediation is not successful and no agreement is reached in mediation, the mediation ends. The case then proceeds to trial.
- Final Trial
The law establishes a mandatory 90-day waiting period between the time a case is filed and the time a divorce may be granted. This is a minimum time limit; most cases usually take longer. If you and your spouse are unable to negotiate a settlement agreement, either party can ask the court to assign the case for trial. Cases that must go to trial take longer to complete because the court can only hear a limited number of cases per week. Some cases cannot be completed in a single day, and each case must wait its turn to be reached for trial.
At this hearing, final determinations are made concerning property division, permanent child support, and alimony. Proof relating to these issues is presented to the court in the form of witness testimony and documentary evidence. Some documentary evidence that you may want to provide includes an appraisal of your home or business. If you believe your spouse is underemployed, you may want to have your spouse undergo a professional vocational assessment to determine his or her earning capacity. If children are involved, you may want to appoint an expert to conduct home studies and make recommendations to the court about the children’s best interests. In Iowa, joint legal custody is presumed to be in the children’s best interests unless the court finds specific grounds, such as domestic abuse, to deny joint legal custody.
- The Decree of Dissolution of Marriage
The Court may enter a decree of dissolution of marriage after finding that A) one of the parties has been living in Iowa for at least ninety (90) days immediately before the filing of the Petition for Dissolution, B) there is no likelihood that the marriage can be preserved, and C) at least ninety days have passed since the responding spouse was served with the Petition. With the entry of the Decree, the court is required to make provision for final child custody, child support, alimony, and property disposition.
While each case is unique, most divorce cases follow the general steps outlined above. With so much at stake, it is wise to engage an attorney to help you through the process. Goosmann Law Firm, PLC, has a number of highly qualified attorneys to make sure you, your family, and your assets are protected. Whether you are thinking of filing for divorce or your spouse has filed already, don’t hesitate to contact a family law attorney at Goosmann Law Firm to schedule a consultation today.