The Summons And Complaint
So you have come to the conclusion you want a divorce. The first thing you’ll have to do is draft two separate documents: the Summons and Complaint. A Summons is simply a document that tells the other side the action has started and that they have 21 days to respond to your Complaint. The Complaint will contain allegations regarding the topics of your divorce and a request for what you want the Court to grant you if the matter were to go to a trial.
Serving And Filing The Divorce Papers
The next step is to serve the Summons and Complaint on the opposing party. According to both Minnesota and North Dakota Rules of Civil Procedure, there are several ways a person can have their soon-to-be-ex served with the action for divorce. Some ways are nicer than others. For those who want to create the least amount of emotion and potential backlash, asking the other party to “admit service” by signing a document called an Admission of Service is best. On the other end of the “nice spectrum” is having a sheriff serve the opposing party at work. Typically it is better to start an action the nice way, but there are some instances when a “process server” (professional Summons and Complaint deliverer) or a Sheriff is needed. These are situations in which the opposing party is likely not going to sign an Admission of Service. Typically, this reluctance to sign is based on ignorance of the process (the belief that they are signing away some essential right) or the belief that it is advantageous to be the Plaintiff in the action, and so they want to “beat the other party to the punch.” Whether or not there is an advantage to being the Plaintiff to action is a blog topic for another day.
Regardless of how someone is served, the Summons and Complaint then must be filed with the court, along with the proof of service (e.g., the statement from the Sheriff saying he or she served the other party or the Admission of Service). This lets the court know that a lawsuit has started and that it should proceed down the “conveyor belt” toward a conclusion, as described more fully below.
If your particular divorce action involves children, the next thing that will happen is a letter will be sent to both parties stating that they qualify for the “free” mediation program in North Dakota. After receiving this letter, the clerk of court in the county in which you reside will send out an order requiring each party to contact one of the state’s mediators to get the mediation process started. Because this is an order, both parties are obligated to at least try it. This being said, parties should not dread this process as it is truly a great program that allows parties to seek the help of a neutral third-party to possibly resolve all of their issues, for up to six hours at no charge.
Filing A Rule 8.3 Informational Statement
Within the time limits required by the applicable Rule of Court, you or your attorney will then file an informational statement with the court stating what things remain at issue in your divorce case, some proposed timelines, and whether or not you believe a scheduling conference with a judge is necessary. If there is a pretrial conference, you and the opposing party will sit down with a judge and determine when the trial will be held and how much time you will have to gather the information you believe is necessary to present your case at a trial. A lot of people ask how long a divorce action will take. The answer, of course, is that it depends. A stipulated matter, depending on how quickly people sign the necessary paperwork, can be as short as a couple weeks; whereas, in the more extreme cases, a divorce can take a couple years. While those may be the outliers on the divorce timeline spectrum, most take between four and twelve months.
The time period between the commencement of the divorce action and the date the judge signs the Final Judgment is called the “interim period.” I have already gone over what takes place within the first few weeks after the service and filing of the action, but what happens between then and when the final decision is handed down, especially if it could be a couple of years down the road? Again, the answer is “it depends.” A wide range of things can happen, but the most common things that take place are: 1) interim proceedings, 2) discovery and 3) settlement negotiations.
Interim orders are sometimes necessary to say who: gets the kids; has usage of the house; or pays certain bills. If an interim proceeding is necessary, a motion is presented to the court and affidavits are filed supporting each party’s position(s). By design, these proceedings are fairly quick. In fact, there is a rule which requires courts to hear these motions by a certain deadline.
Discovery is a process a party uses to find out the information needed to make an informed decision to settle the matter or to present their case to a judge. It can consist of things like taking the deposition of the other party or a third party, issuing written questions to an opposing party, or requesting documents from the other party or other entities. This process can also include hiring experts to appraise values of certain assets and/or hiring experts to help make a determination as to what is in a child’s best interests.
Settlement negotiations should always take place. Why? First, if you have a say in what will be happening with the rest of your life through settlement, you are likely going to be happier than if you left that decision up to a stranger, i.e., the judge. Second, it is cheaper! While it is sometimes necessary to “fight” in order to get what you deserve, a lot of times the “fight” simply isn’t worth it monetarily. As an additional benefit, if you settle your case early, many of the processes described above can be avoided.
Whether you received a final judgment via settlement or from a judge after a trial, your divorce case will eventually end. The final Judgment will be signed by the clerk of court and sent to the parties. You’ll refer to this document in the future if a dispute ever arises.
The divorce process can be simple and quick, or it can be difficult and drawn out. Regardless of what path you are going down, it is always a good idea to contact an attorney to help you navigate your way through the process.
If you want to discuss these types of issues with an attorney, you can reach our Family Law Team at 701-297-2890 or send us an email via the contact form below.
The information contained in this article and on this website is for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice.