The purpose of this article is to explain the basics of the divorce process in Iowa. Of course, if you ever have any questions about divorce, child custody and support, or other family law issues, please call Carr & Wright and ask to speak to one of our attorneys. Divorce (or "dissolution of marriage") is a very serious matter with long reaching legal implications. That is why we recommend speaking to an experienced family law attorney, such as one of the fine attorneys in our office.
The first step is the actual filing for divorce, and the person filing the petition for divorce will forever be referred to as the "Petitioner". His/her spouse will become the "Respondent." Getting the petition right is crucial, because in the Petition you ask the court to grant you certain things in the divorce - such as custody, child support, property division, and alimony, as well as asking the other party to share in the court costs and attorney fees. You must also show that the Court has jurisdiction to decide those matters. This can be a complicated matter, especially if children are involved, so it is important to bring a lot of information with you when you first meet with your attorney.
One big complaint we often hear is that it takes a long time to finalize a divorce, especially when child custody is being determined. This is true, but one way to get a temporary order is to ask the Court for a hearing on temporary matters. Through this process, you are able to get a court hearing on matters such as custody, support, alimony, etc. much earlier than waiting to settle your divorce or going to trial.
Assuming the Respondent has filed his/her Answer, the case proceeds to sharing information and discovery. Now, the Court requires the parties to exchange some information without Discovery, such as financial information and affidavits, but in most cases, Discovery is essential.
The Court will also likely require that the parties attempt mediation prior to trial. Mediation is a process where the parties, and their attorneys, meet with a third party (called a mediator) and try to reach an amicable solution. The mediator is usually another attorney, someone with family law experience, but without any connection to the case itself. Mediation is important because it helps parties find a middle ground to their dispute - something that both parties can live with.
If mediation is not successful, then the parties will need to set a trial date. Preparing for the divorce trial involves a large amount of work, so it is important that you and your attorney keep in contact in the weeks leading to trial. A future blog post will address the divorce trial process more thoroughly, but needless to say, it can be an emotionally-draining, and costly, process. That is why, if there are things that can be agreed to (such as certain property division or custody issues), that those be agreed upon, or "stipulated" to, prior to trial. That way, the judge can focus on the remaining contested issues.