What is the process for a divorce case in Utah?
Considering divorce can create huge mental and emotional turmoil. You are trying to change a life that you have been in for a long time. I can imagine the weight you are carrying right now. You probably long for peace in your life.
The decisions you are making are not easy and can be the most difficult you will ever face. While you want to uphold your commitment, you also want to protect your own integrity. It would be nice if time could just stop for a while so you could give these decisions the time they deserve. For so many, divorce is strange new territory. The biggest question is how it all works? How do you pull out of one of the most important relationships of your life?
Divorce cases are as different and varied as the people and marriages that are coming before the court. I am going to outline the general legal process in this article. But this overview gives you a good idea of the stages your case could go through.
Beginning the Process
To start, a petition for divorce gets filed. The petition is the statement of what you want to see happen at the end of the divorce case. We present your best case outcome on all of the issues: custody, parent-time, alimony, child support, division of assets, ownership of the home, etc. That petition is filed with the court and a case number, judge and commissioner are assigned. The court also issues an injunction, which prevents both spouses from making major financial changes or taking the children out of state. Then the petition and injunction is served on the other party. Your spouse has 21 days to file a response to the petition (30 days if they live outside of the State of Utah).
If your spouse does not file a response to your petition, then you can ask the Court to enter a default judgment, meaning you get everything that you asked for in your petition. This does not happen very often, but it does happen; that is why you want your petition to set out your best outcome. Just in case.
Most of the time, your spouse does file an answer, either with the help of an attorney or on his own. Once that happens, the process becomes a bit more fluid and less linear. I divide the next steps into two main courses of action: Mediation and Litigation.
Mediation is a mandatory part of the process in Utah; you cannot go to trial without completing mediation. Many cases are able to settle at mediation. Mediation involves a neutral third party who works with each side in order to help you and your soon-to-be ex-spouse reach an agreement on all of the issues between you. This can be a very helpful process, because it allows you more control in the ultimate outcome. You get to decide which issues are most important to you, and can accept the options that mean the most. It also allows you to be more creative in reaching those important outcomes. Often people see this as the way to get your divorce done quickly. In order for mediation to be most effective, you have to be well prepared, which means not only having all of the necessary information to make good decisions, but thinking through what those most important issues are, and what you are willing to give up in order to get your desired outcome.
Litigation means that you are asking a judicial officer to resolve issues for you. This happens for many different reasons: one party expects an outcome that is unreasonable; the parties are too far apart in their desired outcomes; the story needs to be told as part of the healing process. Litigation can include steps like holding temporary orders hearings, when the court makes decisions that govern while the divorce is pending, things like who stays in the house, who pays what bills, when the children spend time with which parent. Litigation can also include a trial, which is when you make your best and simplest explanation to the judge of the outcome that you want and hope that the judge agrees with you. Because this path involves the court system, it can take much longer to get through, so plan on spending much more time going through a divorce on a litigation path.
Ending the Process
The end of the process comes when (1) you and your spouse reach and agreement and sign a written stipulation; (2) when a judge issues findings of fact and conclusions of law following a trial; or (3) when the parties decide to reconcile (which rarely happens, but does, on occasion). We prepare the Decree of Divorce and other supporting documents, which are provided to the other side for review and approval and then are turned into the judge for signature. When the court “signs” your decree (it is all done electronically nowadays), then you are officially divorced and this chapter of your life is finished. Depending on the path that your case takes, that could be in as few as 90 days and in as many as 18 months (or more, in complex custody and/or financial cases).