How to Handle Divorce at Court: 6 Easy Steps You Should Know

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I think you’ll agree with me when I say that most people have entertained thoughts of “divorce at court” in their marriage journey at some point. Divorce is the term used to describe the official ending of a marriage by a qualified court.

The thought may have come to you and your spouse as well.

Perhaps it happened when you both thought your marriage was beyond redemption because of constant arguments. Or you married too young—hence, they were not the ideal man or woman for you. Probably you have some inequalities, for example, different levels of education, etc.

Depending on your jurisdiction, there could be multiple reasons for divorce, but chiefly, some of the top include:

  • Infidelity
  • Domestic violence
  • Diminished trust and lack of commitment
  • Financial difficulties 

In any case, it’s never easy to dissolve a marriage. Handling the legal complexities of divorce in court may be rather intimidating, and the whole process is a messy and heartbreaking affair.

A couple in argument in front of another man

However, there’s some hope to aid you in navigating these stormy waters. 

The answer? 

Here is a guide that seeks to demystify the procedure by providing a detailed road map that will enable you to proceed with confidence and clarity in the long run.

1. Preparing for Court

So if you have made the firm decision to litigate your divorce at court, the first obstacle is the preparation stage. To get through it smoothly, follow these steps:

Seek Legal Counsel 

Firstly, consult a lawyer with experience in family law. They can help you understand legal processes, counsel you on your rights, and represent you in court—tasks that are obviously difficult to handle on your own. 

They will also prepare you for what to expect in the divorce court so that the other party does not surprise you during the proceedings, which is equally important.

Gather Relevant Divorce Documents 

In the buildup to your final decision to seek divorce at court, you must have gotten documents along your marriage journey, be they certificates, deeds of title, e.t.c.

Assemble all the legal documents, including the marriage certificate, prenuptial agreement (if applicable), financial and bank records, and proof of employment or income

These will be useful when the case ends and the court determines how to divide your property.

A lady perusing documents in an office.

Understand Grounds for Divorce

Familiarity with the grounds for divorce in your jurisdiction (e.g., adultery, desertion, irretrievable breakdown) is essential.

Be open to your solicitor, and without reservations, let them know why you want a divorce at court. 

For the court to rule favorably for you, you must have sufficient grounds coupled with the most compelling evidence.

2. Starting the Legal Process

Filing a Petition 

The starting point involves the spouse seeking divorce filing a petition with the court outlining the grounds for divorce and any requested orders, e.g., residency issues, if you opt to live separately in the meantime.

The petition will have affidavits, witnesses and their statements, and any other relevant document.

Serving Your Spouse

Your spouse needs to receive both the petition and a summons notifying them of the court date.

Mostly, and depending again on the spouse’s jurisdiction, they have fourteen days to respond to the petition. The court then certifies the petition for hearing.

3. Temporary Orders

The case may require that the judge issue some temporary orders that may affect the status quo.

Such orders may be necessary if the parties concerned can’t find common ground. They may include:

  • Financial Agreements: The judge may impose interim orders pertaining to asset management and how you’ll meet your financial obligations while you wait for the final divorce decree
  • Child Custody Arrangements: Temporary custody arrangements are determined, prioritizing the child’s best interests. This may involve the input of child welfare societies or any others in the jurisdiction

4. Discovery and Negotiation

In the discovery phase, there is an exchange of information. Both parties reveal their financial assets, debts, and income through document exchanges and interrogatories.

A couple with a lawyer negotiating terms

By Cottonbro via Pexels

Without a doubt, this is an important stage that calls for honesty and requires sworn testimonies and affidavits.

Secondly, the negotiation stage follows. It focuses on settling outside of court on issues like child custody, property division, and spousal support.

When an out-of-court settlement is not possible, you move on to the next stage…The court hearing 

5. Court Hearings

At the court hearing, be it physical or virtual, as often happens in this digital era, ensure to have the best of practices by:

  • Being time conscious- You can’t afford to keep the court waiting
  • Have good first impressions
  • In virtual hearings, ensure all your equipment works properly, including microphones 

Here is what happens next:

  • There are pretrial conferences where judges often streamline the trial, address procedural matters, and encourage settlement
  • Court Appearances: Depending on the complexity of your case, you may have several court appearances for arguments, witness testimonies, and evidence presentation
  • The judge gives both sides time to present their cases, rebuttals, and finally the closing remarks

6. Finalizing the Divorce at Court

Provided that the judge finds sufficient grounds for the divorce, they’ll accept it and give the following orders:

  • Decree Nisi: After meeting all legal requirements, the court issues a conditional decree of divorce (Decree Nisi). This stipulates that the judge has not formally ended your marriage, but unless someone brings other applications challenging the nisi, they will eventually grant the divorce on application of decree absolute
  • Decree Absolute: After a waiting period, usually six weeks, they grant the Decree Absolute, officially dissolving the marriage

Final Thoughts of Handling Divorce at Court

In conclusion, this guide provides a general overview of divorce proceedings. Specific procedures and timelines may vary depending on your jurisdiction. 

On the whole, consulting a lawyer remains the best way to navigate the intricacies of your divorce at court.

By taking proactive steps, staying informed, and seeking professional guidance, you can navigate the divorce process in court with greater clarity and confidence.

At last, seeking settlements outside of long court processes is a good alternative. It’s an easier route that offers: 

  • Alternative Dispute Resolution: Consider mediation or arbitration as less adversarial and potentially faster ways to reach agreements outside of court
  • Emotional Support: Seek support from friends, family, or therapists to navigate the emotional challenges of divorce
A heart image broken into two

What are your thoughts? Let’s hear them in the comments section.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What are the legal grounds for divorce?

A: Grounds for divorce vary by jurisdiction. Common grounds include:

  • Irretrievable breakdown of marriage  
  • Adultery: Proving your spouse committed adultery can be grounds for divorce
  • Cruelty: Either emotional or physical abuse
  • Desertion: If your spouse abandons the marriage for a specific period (e.g., one year), it may be grounds for divorce
  • Separation: In some cases, living apart for a specific period can be grounds for divorce

2. Do I need a lawyer for a divorce?

A: While not always mandatory, legal counsel is important, especially for complex cases involving children, significant assets, or domestic violence. 

3. How long does a divorce take?

A: The timeline depends on the complexity of your case, co-operation between spouses, and the court backlog. 

4. What happens to our children during the divorce?

A: Child custody arrangements are determined based on the child’s best interests. This may involve temporary orders during the divorce process and a final custody agreement in the final decree.

5. How will the courts divide our property?

Prenuptial agreements, where applicable, play a significant role. Otherwise, the court’s discretion prevails.

6. Will I have to pay spousal support?

The court may order spousal support (also known as alimony) if one spouse has a significantly lower earning capacity than the other. 

7. Can a court rescind a nisi deed before issuing the absolute deed?

A: Certainly. If you settle before the time lapses, you may not need to go all the way to the absolute deed.

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