What is the process?
You will save time and money, and usually accomplish better results, by settling your case amicably with the other party. However, this is contingent on both parties’ willingness to cooperate in the process and access to the paperwork needed for you and your attorney to make informed decisions regarding your case. If financial records, asset valuation information, etc. is available to you, you and your attorney can work together to craft a settlement proposal for the opposing party’s consideration, and your attorney can provide legal authority and explanation to help educate the other party and guide the process, in an effort to improve your chances of settlement.
Either Way, the process starts by filing a petition and possibly one or more motions for temporary relief and serving the opposing party with a copy of the paperwork.
From there, you may request documents from the opposing party, and the opposing party may request documents from you, depositions may be held and a settlement offer can be made. In cases involving children, a parenting class will be required but once attended, mediation services will be provided at no cost in order to attempt to settle any custody and parenting time issues.
In the event settlement is not possible, a trial will be scheduled to formally resolve the case by providing the court with documentation, testimony and other evidence and allowing the judge to decide the issues.
How long will this take?
An attorney relies on your help to resolve the case whether taking a formal or informal approach. The faster you are able to complete tasks, gather documents and respond to questions, the faster your case can move.
If you and the opposing party are able to reach an agreement settling all issues, it is possible your judgment can be signed and entered as quickly as your attorney can draft the required pleadings.
If custody or parenting time is at issue, scheduling the parenting class required by the court may be the only significant delay, as the class must be scheduled and a 1-2 week wait is not unusual.
If no settlement is possible, the formal process must be used and the court must schedule a trial to resolve the case, the process can easily take 6-12 months.
How much will this cost?
The cost can vary dramatically. Some attorneys will charge hourly, some will provide flat rate options.
You may be able to find an attorney willing to answer questions on an as needed basis throughout your case. However, the attorney’s advice is only as reliable as the amount of accurate information provided and there are risks to this approach. A “quick question” is not generally as simple as anyone would prefer.
Also, depending on the amount of assistance required, this approach can be more expensive. It generally takes longer for an attorney to explain how to do something, especially if contingencies are involved, than it would for the attorney to handle any item in particular for you. Alternatively, some attorneys may be willing to act solely as a scrivener, and simply prepare necessary paperwork.
Attorney’s hourly rates are generally $150-$400 per hour depending on the kind of case, location, experience of the attorney, and many other variables.
Do I really need an attorney?
There are forms available online, usually on the court’s websites and instructions are included.
If you have no assets, no children, and no claims for spousal support by either party you may not need an attorney, but if you attempt to represent yourself and then decide to hire an attorney, some or all of what you have done will likely have to be re-done which ends up costing you more, not less.
Sit down with an attorney and discuss your case in advance, and be sure your initial consultation includes case planning and issue spotting by the attorney so that you can make an informed decision about how best to proceed.