Going through a divorce can be an emotionally difficult process, add on to this the complexities of the legal system and the process may start to seem overwhelming. When filing for a divorce, multiple different legal issues need to be resolved, such as how property will be divided, whether alimony is appropriate, and who will have custody of the children and who will pay child support. Because of the many different legal issues involved in a divorce, it is always best to hire an attorney to help guide you through the legal process. While the legal issues involved in any given case will depend on the facts of that specific case, here is a general guide about how to go about filing for divorce when there are no children involved.
Step One: Petitioner Completes the Documents
The first step in any divorce proceeding begins with completing documents. The petitioner (the person seeking the divorce) will be the one to fill out the documents to get the process started. If the petitioner does not have an attorney, they can use the Online Court Assistance Program to fill out the required documents. This website is available here: http://www.utcourts.gov/ocap/ The initial documents that the petitioner must complete include the following:
- Cover Sheet for Civil Actions
- Department of Health Form
- Verified Complaint for Divorce
Step Two: Petitioner Files the Documents with the Court and Serves the Documents on the Respondent
The second step requires the petitioner to takes the documents that they just finished completing and file them with the appropriate court. Under Utah law, the appropriate court is the court of the county in which you or your spouse resides. The petitioner can either mail in these forms or hand-deliver the forms to the county clerk. If the petitioner chooses to mail the forms, it is recommended by the court that the petitioner use registered mail to guarantee receipt of delivery. After the originals have been filed with the court, the petitioner must “serve” these documents on the respondent (the other spouse) within 120 days from the date the original documents were filed. The petitioner can either hire a private process server, hand the documents to the respondent in person, or seek the help of the sheriff’s office.
Step Three: Respondent Files an “Answer” to the Divorce Petition
After the respondent has received the divorce documents, they have 21 days (if they were served the documents in Utah; 30 days if served outside of Utah) to respond to the divorce petition. The response that the respondent files with the court is known as the “Answer.” If the respondent fails to file an answer within the timeframe allotted, the petitioner may ask for a default judgment. A default judgment means that the petitioner will get everything they asked for in the divorce petition. In filing the Answer, the respondent can contest any issues or facts that are raised in the initial divorce petition that was filed by the petitioner. The respondent may also file a stipulation in writing to the petition and the divorce decree. This means that the respondent is agreeing to everything in the petitioner’s original documents and is not going to contest any of the issues. If this occurs, after the stipulation is filed, the court will review the documents to ensure that they comply with the law, and if so, will issue the divorce decree without any changes.
Step Four: Both Parties File a Financial Declaration
If the respondent files an Answer with the court contesting any of the issues or facts, both parties will then be required to file a Financial Declaration with the court. A Financial Declaration is a document that discloses any assets and debts that are held by each spouse. This is necessary because it will help the court determine how property and debts should be divided between the spouses and whether alimony should be awarded following the divorce.
Step Five: Wait
Under Utah law, there is a required 90-day waiting period between the date that the petition is originally filed and the date that the decree is signed. Either spouse may file a document with the court asking the court to waive the waiting period, however, the court will only grant this if there are extraordinary circumstances.
Step Six: Mediation and Pre-trial Conferences
If, after all of the documents have been filed with the court, there are still contested issues between the spouses, the court will order mandatory mediation. At least one mediation session will be required in an attempt to resolve these contested issues without having to go to trial, however, further mediation sessions may be required or requested depending on the case. Either spouse may request that the mediation requirement be waived. If there are still contested issues have the mediation sessions, the court will schedule a pre-trial conference with the spouses as a last attempt at settling the case before trial.
Step Seven: Trial
If the spouses are unable to reach an agreement about what the divorce decree should say, the case will go to trial. During a trial, the court will hear from both parties concerning the issues that are contested and will then make a final decision.
Step Eight: Divorce Decree
A divorce decree must be signed by a judge before the divorce becomes final. The judge can sign a divorce decree at any time during the process if the spouses can agree to the terms of the agreement. Oftentimes, a divorce decree will be created by the spouses and submitted to the court for approval and signing. However, if the case goes to trial, the judge will write the final divorce decree, which will include his final decisions concerning the issues that were presented at trial. The divorce decree typically contains provisions allocating all of the assets between the two spouses, allocating re-payment of any debts between the spouses, ordering any alimony payments, and stating that the two parties are officially divorced. For additional information on the process involved in a divorce see: http://www.utcourts.gov/howto/divorce/