Concluding Your Divorce: Agreement or Final Hearing?
You survived the waiting game. More than likely, your case suffered a few continuances, you were required to answer the other side's discovery request (which drove you mad), you underwent an interview or two with a Guardian ad litem or custody elevator, and attended mediation - which now led you to the final stage of your divorce.
In this post, I will discuss the two ways your divorce case can be finalized, what each possible resolution means for your case, and the process for each. The two ways are:
1. Reaching an agreement or
2. Attending a final hearing
Agreement: One word I think that deters clients from reaching an agreement with the opposing side is settlement. Clients tend to feel this word means they are giving something up and just settling on an important part of their lives. However, I stress to my client they are not "just settling", as the Agreement process is the one time you, the client, has control of the case and can determine what happens in your life and your family's life during the divorce process. Will it be everything you had hoped for and wanted? Of course not. BUT it can give you the ability to bring an end to a difficult part of your family's life. Reaching a resolution with the opposing side allows you and your spouse to decide custody, parenting time, division of assets, division of debt and possible child support.
Your attorney will assist you during mediation or outside settlement talks and advise you whether or not the resolution is in your and/or your children's best interest. Your attorney should never force you to come to an agreement or stop you from one. This is your decision, it is your life.
Final Hearing: If the parties are unable to reach an agreement, then you and your attorney will prepare for a final hearing. A final hearing can take anywhere from one to two hours, a day, or even longer. The duration of your final hearing is determined by how many witnesses and the extensiveness of the issues. To prepare for the final hearing, your attorney will review discovery, reports, speak with witnesses, draft questions, arguments, research Indiana law similar to your issues, prepare exhibits, and meet with you to prepare.
During this time, you will feel very anxious leading up to the final hearing, the day of the hearing, and even after the hearing. This is all very normal, because more than likely you have never experienced something like this before. Trial, Courts, Judges, Attorneys, the Unknown - is scary. But you must trust your attorney and trust that they will prepare you and your case.
The day of the final hearing, the Petitioner (who filed) will put on their case first. Each party will have the opportunity to call witnesses (including their spouse) and present evidence. Opposing counsel will be given the opportunity to cross-examine (question) you and the witnesses you and your attorney have chosen to testify on your behalf. At times, you may feel like the opposing counsel is beating up on you or your witnesses. Each attorney has a different approach and some attorneys know how certain judges like things to be done. Always remember though, even if you are feeling like the opposing attorney is being mean or rude, they are just doing their job and your spouse probably feels the same way about your attorney.
When the hearing is over, the judge will typically conclude the hearing and say a ruling will be forthcoming. Judges rarely issue a final Order the day of the hearing, as emotions are already running high and the Judge needs time to consider all of the evidence presented. The number one question I get after a hearing is, "when will we get an order?" And my response is always, "I do not know." That is because in Indiana, Judges have 90 days from the date of the hearing to issue a final order. The Judge may either 1) require the attorneys to submit Findings of Facts and Conclusions of Law, which are like briefs to the Court as to why the issues you presented should be ordered or 2) review all the evidence and testimony presented at the hearing, issue findings, and make a final order. A GIANT frustration you may experience during this time is waiting for this final order.
You have either submitted an agreement or attending a final hearing. You are now waiting for the signed and approved Order. Once the Court issues the final order and decree of dissolution, your attorney will provide you with a copy and you divorce is now final, but there still may be some housekeeping to take care of initially after the order. A child support account may need to be established, the exchange of property and assets, transfer of deeds and titles, or preparation of a QDRO may all need to be done.
Always remember though, just because the marriage is over it does not mean you are 100% done with the opposing side, if you have children. They will still be in your life and I cannot say this enough to my clients; Please co-parent. Please learn to co-parent in an effective and positive manner. If you and your ex cannot learn to do this, the initial part of your divorce case may be over but your time before the Court will never end.
I hope you this four part series provided some insight into a divorce proceeding in Indiana. Your marriage have ended, but remember that your new life awaits!