Procedure

The process begins formally by the service of a summons and complaint (legal papers setting out what the plaintiff, or party starting the suit, wants). The defendant (party on whom the summons and complaint are served) has 30 days after being served to file a formal written response (answer) and to request any other relief (counterclaim). The court may order the parties to attend mediation to resolve the issues, especially custody and visitation. The court may also order that parties attend a parenting course that deals with families going through a divorce. If the parties can settle their case, the court holds an abbreviated hearing. If the parties cannot settle, then each side can present evidence at a trial to show why the court should grant the relief wanted. After trial the judge decides what relief should be given. A temporary hearing will be held if there are any issues that must be decided before the final hearing. At a temporary hearing, evidence usually is presented by affidavit without witnesses taking the stand. Except in cases involving separation, there is a two month waiting period after service of summons and complaint before a divorce action can go to trail and three months before a decree can be issued.