We Will Be With You Every Step of the Way
Once you have consulted with a divorce attorney at Westchester Matrimonial and decided to file for divorce, your attorneys will be with you every step of the way, whether your divorce is settled prior to trial or whether your case goes to trial.
Step One: File for Divorce
One of the first steps in negotiating and litigating your divorce case is to file for divorce. To file for divorce, you can file a Summons with Notice, or a Summons and Verified Complaint. A valid Summons with Notice or Summons and Verified Complaint must give your spouse notice that you are filing for divorce and must comply with other legal requirements. Your Summons with Notice or Summons and Verified Complaint will also set forth all the relief you are seeking in the divorce. The relief does not have to be specific; for example, you don’t have to include the amount of child support, maintenance, or specific items of property you are seeking. It is sufficient to state that you are seeking child support, maintenance, equitable distribution, etc. Your Westchester Matrimonial attorney can help you understand these legal requirements and file all the necessary paperwork with the appropriate parties.
When you file for divorce, Automatic Orders are issued by the Court which state that you may not transfer, encumber, assign, remove, withdraw or in any way dispose of any property without the written permission of your spouse or pursuant to Court Order, except in the usual course of business, for customary and usual household expenses or for reasonable attorney’s fees in connection with the matrimonial action. Under the automatic orders, you may not transfer, encumber, assign, remove, withdraw or in any way dispose of any tax deferred funds, stocks or other assets held in any individual retirement accounts, 401K accounts, profit sharing plans, Keogh accounts, or any other pension or retirement account, without the written permission of your spouse, even in the usual course of business, for customary and usual household expenses or for reasonable attorney’s fees in connection with the matrimonial action. Further, you may not incur unreasonable debts, except in the usual course of business or for customary or usual household expenses, or for reasonable attorney’s fees in connection with the matrimonial action. Additionally, you may not remove the other party or your children from any existing medical, hospital and dental insurance coverage or change the beneficiaries or terms of any existing insurance policies.
Failure to comply with the automatic orders may be contempt of Court and can carry heavy penalties. Your Westchester Matrimonial attorney is able to discuss Automatic Orders carefully with you so that you fully understand your obligations. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask your attorney for clarification. The Automatic Orders come into effect for your spouse when your spouse is SERVED with the Summons with Notice or Summons and Verified Complaint.
Step Two: Serving Spouse with Summons
After filing for divorce, your spouse must be served with a copy of the Summons with Notice or Summons and Verified Complaint that you filed. Your spouse must be served within 120 days of filing, unless extended by Court Order. Your spouse must be served by personal, in hand service, unless the Court issues an Order allowing you to serve your spouse by other methods. The Court will generally only issue such orders allowing for alternate service and for an extension of time where there have been many attempts to serve your spouse and none have proven successful.
Your Westchester Matrimonial attorney can guide you through the summons process, ensuring you meet the legal requirements.
Step Three: Notice of Appearance
Once your spouse has been served, he or she will have 20 days to “appear” in the action. This means that your spouse will have to file and serve a Notice of Appearance or an Answer to your Verified Complaint so that your spouse will not be considered to be in default. If your spouse does appear, he or she may retain an attorney or he or she may choose to be self-represented. If your spouse fails to appear in the action and has defaulted, the Court has procedures by which you may still obtain a divorce, and your Westchester Matrimonial attorney is qualified to continue to represent and guide you throughout this process. The Court will not require you to remain married simply because your spouse has failed or refused to appear in the divorce action.
Step Four: Statement of Net Worth
Your spouse’s attorney and your attorney will likely require each of you to complete a document known as a Statement of Net Worth. The Statement of Net Worth includes a section for each of your expenses, income, assets, and liabilities. It is intended to set forth your overall financial circumstances and all your financial information. The Statement of Net Worth must be sworn to, under oath, so it is extremely important that the Statement of Net Worth is as accurate as possible. If you have questions about completing your Statement of Net Worth, your Westchester Matrimonial attorney may be able to provide guidance or refer you to a financial professional.
After the parties have exchanged Statements of Net Worth, your attorneys will review the Statements and speak with one another to discuss the information contained in the Statements. The information in the Statements will let the attorneys know what assets are present to be equitably distributed and what liabilities exist to be divided.
Either or both attorneys may serve Demands for Discovery and Inspection. A Demand for Discovery and Inspection sets forth a list of documents that are being demanded and which must be produced. Financial disclosure is mandatory in matrimonial actions, so it is important to comply with the Demand for Discovery and Inspection to the best of your ability.
Step Five (optional): Settlement
From the very beginning of the divorce process until the day of trial, either party’s attorney may send a settlement proposal setting forth proposed terms to settle the case. Neither party is obligated to accept a settlement proposal; if a settlement is a viable option, terms are usually exchanged back and forth until agreeable terms are reached.
Most matrimonial cases settle by agreement by the parties (see “Settlement Agreements Article” – Westchester Matrimonial LLC); this means that most of your case will probably involve settlement negotiations. How long it takes to negotiate the terms of your divorce depends on a number of factors. These factors include but are not limited to the assets involved, liabilities involved, whether there are claims for maintenance or child support being asserted, and whether custody and visitation of children is contested.
Our attorneys have years of experience in negotiating settlements for our clients. We are extremely familiar with and well-versed in the laws pertaining to your divorce case and have the legal research resources to address any legal question that may arise. We are dedicated to finding a resolution of your matrimonial matter that is fair, equitable, and appropriate for your family. If you need a divorce attorney, we will be with you every step of the way.
Step Six: Litigation
If we are not able to reach a settlement of your matrimonial case, we are prepared to aggressively litigate your case in Court. In general, the Court will not schedule any Court appearances in your case until either party files a Request for Judicial Intervention with the Court. The Request for Judicial Intervention lets the Court know that the parties need the Court’s assistance in resolving some issues.
In Westchester County, the parties will initially be scheduled to meet with an Attorney-Referee who works in close connection with the matrimonial part Judges. The initial Court conference is called a Preliminary Conference in Westchester County. The Attorney-Referee will conference the case at the Preliminary Conference and prepare an Order to be signed by the Judge which will direct the parties to undertake certain actions before the next Court conference. Some of these actions include exchanging Statements of Net Worth, completing the exchange of discovery, and completing depositions.
Your Westchester Matrimonial attorney will keep you advised of the dates by which these actions must be undertaken. Before your deposition, your attorney will prepare you for the types of questions the other attorney will ask of you and instruct you as to the proper ways to answer questions at the deposition.
In Westchester, there are typically several Court conferences scheduled before the parties appear before the Judge. At one of these conferences, the Attorney-Referee will decide that your case is ready for trial. At such time, the Attorney-Referee will issue a Trial Ready Order and set trial dates for your case.
A trial in a matrimonial case may include several issues or be limited to a few select issues. Every matrimonial trial is different because every family situation is different. For example, all issues in your case may have been resolved with the exception of custody, which will be resolved by the Judge at trial. In the alternative, custody may have been the only issue that was resolved before trial and all issues will be presented to the Judge at trial. There are no juries in matrimonial trials, so the Judge will be deciding all the issues submitted for consideration.
Irrespective of what the issues are in your matrimonial trial, your Westchester Matrimonial attorney will assist you in strategizing, developing your position at trial, selecting and preparing witnesses to support your claims at trial, and preparing exhibits to be introduced at trial. Your attorney will prepare you to testify at trial. Westchester Matrimonial attorneys have extensive experience with trial preparation and will guide you through the trial process.
After your trial, the Judge will consider the testimony and the evidence presented and render a decision. Final decisions from a matrimonial trial are appealable if there are grounds upon which to appeal – such as mistakes in fact or law by the Judge in rendering the decision (see “Appeals Article” – Westchester Matrimonial LLC).
Whether your case is settled by agreement or taken to trial, rest assured that your experienced, professional Westchester Matrimonial attorneys will be there for you every step of the way. Contact us today to discuss your divorce case in further detail.