The dissolution process begins with the filing a Petition for Dissolution with the Superior Court of the County in which the parties reside. The petition is either served on the other party by a licensed process server or if agreed-upon the other party may sign an Acceptance of Service in front of a notary, which has the same effect as being personally served. The other party known as the Respondent has 20 days to file a Response. If a Response is not filed, the Petitioner may proceed by default. If a Response is filed then in most cases, the court will automatically set what the court calls a Resolution Management Conference. As the title would indicate this is an opportunity for both sides to appear in front of the Court and discuss the best and most efficient way to proceed toward resolution of the issues. Prior to the conference, each party is obligated to prepare a Resolution Management Conference Statement which clearly sets forth each parties position on the various issues for the Court. Often this is the first time potential offers of settlement are exchanged. If certain issues appear to be agreed-upon based upon the statements, the Court generally enters those agreements on the record and the agreements become binding on the parties. If there are issues that are unresolved, the Court has a few options as to how to proceed. If Child Custody or Parenting Time is an issue, then the Court generally sets the matter for what is called a Parenting Conference. In the Parenting Conference, the parties meet with a Psychologist and discuss their position as well as the facts that they believe support their positions. While the approach that different Psychologists use in a Parenting Conference may vary, generally the Psychologist will attempt to resolve as many issues as possible and then make certain findings based upon a limited investigation of the facts and provide the court a recommendation as to what the court should do.
If the matters at issue are financial in nature, the Court will set a Mediation conducted by a Pro Tem Judge. The Mediation is a procedure whereby a neutral third party helps the parties reach settlement. These Pro Tem Judges serve on a volunteer basis and do not charge the parties for their services. The court will either set a Status Conference to be conducted after the Mediation to determine whether a Trial is still necessary or simply set the Trial to take place after the Mediation. While some time ago, the process of setting a Trial might have taken up to 18 months, the Court has streamlined the process and has guidelines, which provide that Trial should occur within 12 months of the initial filing of the Petition. In actuality the process while not immediate, is quicker than that. Generally simple cases are set for Trial within six months of filing. More complicated cases can take up to the year mandated by the courts.
A Dissolution Trial isn’t exactly like the Courtroom drama we see in movies and on television. Generally experienced attorneys are able to put together an organized presentation that includes testimony, expert opinion if applicable, and documenting evidence so that the Court has all of the information available in order to make a good and fair decision. In order to ensure the best result possible at trial, it is important to consult and hire an experienced family law attorney.
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