You’ve filed for divorce! Now what? You are in divorce limbo — not yet single, not really still married.
What happens next?
Once the papers have been filed, a mandatory waiting period begins. Each state has a different waiting period, from 6 weeks to one year. Some states require actual physical separation; others anticipate that you and your spouse will live together until the waiting period expires. During this waiting period, however, the court has the power to make preliminary orders about certain things:
- payment of household expenses
- custody and visitation
- child support and alimony
- use of certain possessions during the case, usually the house or the car
- whether or not a custody investigation will be necessary
- whether or not there is a possibility for reconciliation
- relief from spousal abuse
During this preliminary phase, the court becomes involved only if there is a dispute about these matters. The court’s goal is to stabilize the situation, insure that necessary bills get paid, and protect children from disruption.
Court intervention is not necessary if there is an agreement on the interim issues. These matters, along with the final settlement of the issues in the case, can be mediated, negotiated, or settled out of court at any time. Often, parties and/or their lawyers are able to settle some or all of these matters on a temporary basis, with the understanding that these agreements may be renegotiated before the case is finalized.
When the interim arrangements are settled, they may be written up and presented to the court for approval, or agreed upon informally. When the court approves this agreement, it becomes a court order, and is enforceable by the court. An informal settlement which is not approved by a judge is not enforceable by the court.
If court intervention is necessary for these temporary provisions, the court holds a hearing, which is a sort of “mini-trial”. The judge will hear limited evidence, either through testimony or documents, about your finances, needs, and issues concerning the children. The judge then makes temporary court orders designed to stabilize your living situation while the case proceeds and the waiting period expires. The result of the hearing becomes a court order and is enforceable by the court.
You can actually divorce without ever setting foot in a courthouse! For more information about your options and find out whether litigation or mediation is the best route for you and your family, be sure to visit the Peace Talks Mediation Services resource center.
Excerpted from Your Divorce Advisor: A Lawyer and a Psychologist Guide You Through the Legal and Emotional Landscape of Divorce (Simon & Schuster/Fireside 2001).