One of the most common things I get asked, on almost a daily basis, is, “What do I need to do to get a divorce?”
First, let me be clear, the best way to protect yourself from a divorce is to nurture and maintain the marriage. Oklahoma has, statistically speaking, one of the highest divorce rates while at the same time maintains one of the youngest marriage rates in the country. I believe these directly correlate with each other. Nonetheless, I also believe that divorce is an absolute necessity in certain circumstances.
The first thing one needs to do is file documentation with the court seeking a divorce. This is done by the filing of a petition. There is a filing fee associated with this, as well as the vast majority of initial legal filings. The state of Oklahoma recognizes “irreconcilable differences” as grounds for divorce. This essentially means that you may divorce your spouse for any reason. Very specific language needs to be included in most of the documents, which is one of the primary reasons to seek legal counsel at this stage. Ultimately, you and your legal team will develop a legal strategy to accomplish whatever goals you have in seeking your dissolution.
Generally speaking, I initially categorize a divorce action as either an agreed, an uncontested or a contested matter. If the matter is agreed upon, paperwork can typically be prepared, and the entire process may be expedited. If there are children of the marriage, then you must satisfy a waiting period prior to the granting of any dissolution. If there are no children, then the waiting period is a mere 10 days from the date on which the petition is filed with the court. If the matter is contested, then the first step is a temporary order.
Often, the day-to-day lives of each spouse are so intertwined with the other that separation can throw a giant halt to the process. Who pays for the house or the cars? Can he/she cancel insurance policies or cell phone plans? There are several questions and thoughts that will immediately race through your mind once the realization of a divorce has set in. This is why the court will typically issue a temporary order which outlines the rules during the proceeding. I tell my clients that the temporary order is like the blueprint of how to act during the actual divorce process.
The next stage is the discovery process, which simply translates to the gathering of information. Attorneys may issue “discovery requests” to parties, which require the individual to answer or supply the requested information under oath. In Pontotoc County, and most other counties around the state, any individuals seeking a dissolution must first attempt, in good faith, mediation prior to being awarded a final court date. Early Settlement Mediation is based in Ada and is an excellent resource for anyone needing a mediation session.
If mediation was unsuccessful, and after both parties have had an appropriate amount of time to prepare and gather any relevant information which may be needed, it’s time to request and schedule a hearing on the merits. A “HOM” is what most people think of when they think of a contested divorce proceeding. This is where the information is funneled to the judge by way of witness testimony and evidence presented. Ultimately, the judge will make a final order in relation to any of the issues which are present in front of the court. Once a divorce is finalized, the property distribution aspect, including the awarding of any debts of the marriage, is non-appealable absent some showing of fraud, duress or a reason to make the divorce void or voidable. Any issues dealing with children, custody, visitation or child support may be modified in the future upon the requesting party satisfying their specific burden for the requested change.
If you, or someone you know, has questions about the process of a divorce, seek legal counsel for any questions you may have.
Disclaimer: Please note that this column is for general information purposes only and should not be used and relied upon as a substitute for or construed as legal advice regarding a specific issue or problem. This column in no way intends to create an attorney-client relationship with any individual. Advice should be obtained from a qualified licensed attorney to practice in the jurisdiction where that advice is sought. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.