Divorce is a topic that many hope they never find themselves researching, but there has been an increase in divorce over the last year, and if you find yourself in that position, you should be prepared. Below are some tips for navigating the divorce process from start to finish. Hope you find these tips helpful.
1. Is There An Agreement? The first question you should ask yourself is whether you and your spouse are in agreement. Are you in agreement that a divorce needs to happen, and are you in agreement with how things should be settled? If so, you may be able to proceed with a divorce action without an attorney. While it is always a great idea to consult with an attorney, Montana has done an excellent job of providing resources to those who may not be able to afford that option, and find that they can get things done themselves. See this link for forms on filing a divorce and parenting petition in Montana, and some very helpful information to guide you through that process.
2. Do you have minor children? If you have minor children, the most commonly discussed area will certainly be the parenting plan. Most parents find themselves wanting the most amount of time they can get with their children, and this piece of the divorce puzzle can be very difficult emotionally. If you have minor children, and you and your spouse are not on the same page with regard to the parenting of those children, it would be a good idea to find an attorney. An attorney can be a great resource to provide you with reasonable expectations, the law regarding parenting time, and what to expect in a parenting plan. One of the biggest issues with parents doing a parenting plan without an attorney tends to be the lack of information contemplated in that plan. Unfortunately those parents often end up needing to remedy those issues at high-stress times. When children are involved, it is a great idea to have an attorney as a counselor to guide you through that process.
3. What is the First Step? Whether or not you have an attorney or represent yourself, the first step in getting a divorce moving will be for one party to file a Petition for Dissolution action. This person filing the petition will serve their spouse, and their spouse will then have 21 days to respond to the petition. This starts the process for divorce, but know that the process is still a long ways from being complete. There are many steps between filing and finality, and patience is a virtue.
4. What Can I Expect? Divorce is an emotional process, and you should expect that the process will probably not go perfectly. The settlement of property and the parenting of children requires big decisions to be made, and taking your time is a good idea. You can expect in Montana that the Judge may order mediation to be done prior to seeing the Judge. Many Judge's in Montana require mediation prior to trial, in an effort to allow the parties to settle without going to court and having a full trial.
5. What is Mediation? Mediation is a private, confidential, informal dispute resolution process where an impartial third party (the mediator) assists parties in resolving their differences. See M.C.A. 26-1-813. In other words, mediation is a meeting with a third party mediator where the mediator tries to help the parties work out a resolution with regard to the divorce: property settlement and parenting if necessary. Your settlement offers and statements you say in mediation cannot be used against you in trial. The goal of mediation is to provide parties with an opportunity to speak freely and openly about what they may be willing to settle for, without feeling like that could be used against them if they don't settle and have to go to court. Mediation can be a fruitful process, saving the parties many long hours of stress, anxiety, and legal fees in preparation for trial. To be successful in mediation, be prepared and ready to talk about all of the issues that need to be settled.
6. What if We Have to go to Court? If you have to go to court, that means you have likely exhausted all the discussions about settlement and have a trial date set by the Court. You will need to make sure you have all of your witnesses (people who can testify about the issues you need to bring up) and exhibits (documents you need the Judge to see to make a decision) ready to go and given to your attorney if you are represented. Preparation and organization will serve you well if you end up in Trial.
In summary, do your research and do some self reflection when deciding how you want to proceed with divorce. If you feel like you and your spouse may be able to resolve things on your own, feel free to utilize the resources above. If you feel like you and your spouse could use some assistance or will have difficulty communicating throughout the process, it would be a good idea to get an attorney involved and have their assistance. Hope these tips are helpful in navigating this difficult process.