Although some couples choose to negotiate and never go to Court, most divorce matters where there is even the slightest disagreement end up in front of a judge.
In order to have a judge assigned to your case, a document entitled a Request for Judicial Intervention is filed. This Request for Judicial Intervention (commonly known as an “RJI”) is normally filed pursuant to a request for a Preliminary Conference. However, it can also be filed pursuant to the filing of a Motion or Order to Show Cause (these are formal requests to the Court for various types of relief and will be discussed later).
Once the RJI is filed, the Court will set a date for a Preliminary Conference. This is the date that the parties and their attorneys must appear in Court for the first time. At this conference, the attorneys will normally meet with the Judge’s “law secretary”. Do not let the title fool you, the “law secretary” is not a secretary at all, but the Judge’s right hand man/woman. The law secretary will be the one responsible for handling the case moving forward, at least until oral arguments or a trial are required. At the Preliminary Conference, the attorneys will meet with the law secretary to give them a brief overview of the facts of the case (of course, each attorney will normally have a differing viewpoint on the case). Once each attorney summarizes their versions of the case for the law secretary, the law secretary and attorneys discuss a timeline for the case moving forward.
Another important part of the Preliminary Conference is, when a case involves children, the assigning of an Attorney for the Child (“AFC”). When there are children the subject of a custody or visitation disagreement, the Court will assign the children their own attorney. The AFC will advocate on the children’s behalf and ensure their interests are known to the Court and the other attorneys. The fee for the AFC is normally apportioned on a pro rata basis (meaning, that if both your spouse and you earn approximately the same amount of income, you will both pay fifty percent of the AFC’s fee each).
Once an AFC is assigned, the law secretary and the parties will discuss whether or not any neutral appraisers or valuators are necessary. These include, but are not limited too: forensic psychiatrists/psychologists; real estate appraiser; business valuator; pension valuator; forensic accountant; lifestyle analyst.
From here, the attorneys and law secretary will discuss a schedule for serving and responding to discovery requests. Discovery requests include, but are not limited to: document production; depositions; interrogatories; electronic media. Of course, many of these dates remain fluid as the case moves on and the logistics of obtaining certain documents are brought to light.
Finally, once the law secretary and the attorneys have completed their conference and filled out the Preliminary Conference form, the attorneys will rejoin their clients in the courtroom. The case will then be called and the attorneys and clients will take seats at their respective tables before the Judge presiding over the case. The attorneys will be asked to state their names for the record and the parties will be sworn in. The Judge will then explain the process of divorce in his or her courtroom to the clients. The Judge will inform the clients that the Court will do all it can to facilitate an amicable resolution of the divorce matter but that, ultimately, it is up to the clients as to how amicable or how litigious the case will become. The Judge will admonish the clients to remain cordial to one another and under no circumstances involve their children in their divorce. Finally, the Judge will ask if you have any questions and, if there are none, your matter will be adjourned for the day and the case moves forward through litigation.