Four Phases Of Dissolution
The cost of your dissolution depends upon the amount of time the attorney spends working on your case and the types of documents and expert witnesses you may need to hire. Most cases go through four distinct phases:
PHASE ONE: File and Secure Temporary Orders
In this phase your case is filed with the court. This involves the preparation of a Summons and Petition for Dissolution and the payment of a filing fee. Personal service upon the opposing party must be made and an Affidavit of Service needs to be prepared and filed.
The time to prepare the Summons and Petition and Affidavit of Service depends upon how detailed and specific the documents need to be to best serve your needs in the case. The attorney will need to meet with you and obtain as much information as possible about your assets, debts, incomes and parenting issues before preparing these documents. In the meeting it may be determined that you need the attorney to obtain Temporary Orders. Temporary Orders will be enforceable until your final Decree of Dissolution is granted. A final Decree is granted after 90 days by agreement or after 10 to 24 months if the matter goes to trial.
Some examples of Temporary Orders obtained in dissolution cases are:
- Protection Orders in cases involving domestic violence.
- Mutual Restraining Orders where there is concern that one party or the other may hide or sell assets cancel insurance coverages and/or run up debts.
- Temporary Orders of Child Support where there are children.
- A Temporary Parenting Plan which will govern the residence of the children and visitation for the non-residential parent.
- An Order that requires a party to pay a debt, such as a mortgage payment or car payment.
- An Order that requires a party to return property wrongfully taken.
- Mutual Restraining Orders where the parties are harassing one another or where just one party is harassing the other.
- An Order appointing a Guardian ad Litem or Parenting Evaluator where there are serious contested Parenting Plan issues or disputes concerning who should have the primary custody of the children. Guardian’s ad Litem and/or Parenting Evaluators charge separately for their services. The retainers for these individuals can range from $500.00 to over $5,000.00 depending upon the issues of the case.
- An Order requiring one or both parties to complete a drug and alcohol evaluation.
- An Order requiring one spouse to move from the family residence where the parties cannot agree who should move out.
- An Order requiring a spouse to pay alimony/maintenance to the other spouse.
If Temporary Orders are needed, the attorney will often have to make two court appearances. The first will occur when she/he files the case. A Temporary Ex-Parte Restraining Order and Order to Show Cause will be obtained and a hearing date is chosen. The second Court appearance will be the hearing date. The attorney will also have to prepare additional documents in order to obtain Temporary Orders. For example:
- Motion for Temporary Orders
- Ex-Parte Restraining Order and Order to Show Cause
- Declaration in support of the Motion for Temporary Orders
- Proposed Parenting Plan
- Parenting Plan Declaration
- Third-party declarations in support of the relief requested
- Proposed child support worksheets
- A Financial Declaration with the required attachments
- A proposed Temporary Order
- A proposed Order of Child Support
Each of the above documents takes time, skill and knowledge to prepare for the Court’s review. The amount of time varies with each case and each client.
The attorney fee retainer can vary from $500.00 to $5,000.00 or more, depending upon the case.
PHASE TWO: Discovery
In this phase, the attorney needs to learn about your situation covering four distinct categories. The first two categories are assets and debts. The attorney needs a list of all the assets and debts and their dollar values. If the parties do not agree on the value of an asset, an appraisal will need to be obtained. If the parties do not agree on the amount of the debt, a certified statement from the creditor will need to be obtained.
The next two categories are incomes and the Parenting Plan. The actual and anticipated incomes of the parties are relevant and information concerning these must be obtained either directly from the parties or through their employers. At times it is necessary to hire professionals to give the Court opinions about the future income potential of a party, especially if one spouse has been out of the job market for a long time or has disabilities that affect employability. The information needed for the Parenting Plan is usually an agreement or the evaluation/recommendations of the Guardian ad Litem or parenting evaluator.
PHASE THREE: Settlement Negotiations
Once all the relevant information is obtained and exchanged, most Courts require the parties to attempt settlement. This can be done informally by exchanging written or verbal offers of settlement. It can be done formally with the aid of a third-party mediator or settlement conference master. Most cases resolve with an agreement.
PHASE FOUR: Trial
This phase includes pre-trial preparations and the actual trial. Each case is unique and the amount of time required to prepare for and complete a trial varies.