Cases involving custody and property issues can take a year to resolve, which includes mediation and status conferences before the trial date. There may be PL hearings within a month or two of the scheduling hearing, and a status conference may be held about a month later. Many of the steps in a divorce case depend on different factors, children and property being the ones that most influence the timeline.
The person who files first does have some advantages, but these advantages may or may not make a big difference depending on the circumstances of the case. The main benefit is that the person who files first controls the tone of the case and sets the initial issues. The person who files second has to respond to those issues, and even if they file their own complaint or a counter-complaint, they would still be reacting in some ways to their spouse’s complaint.
Another problem with deciding not to file first is that you have to wait for the other person to file. If you want to get the process moving, then waiting for your spouse to initiate the process might not be ideal.
There are possible disadvantages. The person who files first also presents their case first to the judge in a trial, and the other person would have to present their case after dealing with all of the evidence presented by their spouse. Depending on the issues at hand, this could be problematic for the person who files first, because they may inadvertently build the case for the other party. A good strategy and preparation can prevent those problems.
A case-by-case evaluation is necessary to determine whether filing first is the best option.
What Happens After One Party Files For Divorce Up To The Time The Divorce Is Finalized?
Once the divorce has been filed, the court will issue a summons within one to two days. In the olden days before COVID, we were able to wait at the courthouse for the summons to be presented the same day, and that would enable us to serve the opposing party with a summons in complaint. During COVID, most of it is done by mail or electronically. If it is done electronically, then it will only take about two days; if it is sent via the mail, then it could take about a week.
Once the opposing party receives the summons from a Sheriff or private process server, the case will have officially begun. The party who served would file an affidavit of service, and the opposing party would be on notice and usually have about 30 days to respond. This process can be very efficient and take only a week or two depending on how available the other party is and whether a Sheriff or a private process server is used to serve the summons. It can take months if the other party refuses service or cannot be located. It can be hard to find people sometimes, especially if they have moved out of the state or have not been in contact with their spouse for months or years. Once the affidavit of service is filed, the court will schedule a scheduling hearing to take place about three or four weeks later. This scheduling hearing will set the dates and services for the case.
The timeline will depend on the circumstances; if it’s an uncontested divorce, it will occur within weeks of the scheduling hearing. If there are custody issues, a custody trial will be held within a few months. There also could be a custody evaluation, which is when a social worker goes into the homes and evaluates the parties and the children. This process can take a few weeks, and is usually included within the timeline of getting to the status conference before trial.
Depending on the amount of property to be divided (e.g. houses, cars, retirement accounts, etc.), it could take another six months to get a property trial after the custody trial. Of course, disputes can arise along the way, and there can be discovery each step of the way.