In this article, you will discover:
- The mistake even attorneys make in responding to divorce summons in New York.
- How many court dates to expect for a contested divorce.
- What occurs at each stage of the divorce process.
Contested Divorce Timeline
After getting a summons for divorce, you generally have 20 days to respond. You usually hire an attorney to formally respond to the summons within that time.
If you get served a summons with notice, you just have to enter a Notice of Appearance, usually done by an attorney. If you get served a summons and complaint, you have to file an answer to the complaint.
Merely filing an answer—even if this includes a counterclaim—does not mean the case is contested. Many people, even some attorneys, get this wrong. A contested divorce case happens when a request for judicial intervention (RJI) is filed—meaning one wants a Judge formally assigned to the case.
Once a request for judicial intervention is filed, the court commonly schedules a preliminary conference with the Judge or Court Attorney Referee. This date is often assigned within a few days to a week after you file the RJI. The actual court date will usually be four to eight weeks into the future.
At the conference, the Court largely reviews the preliminary conference order – the form may be found here: preliminary conference order. You’d benefit from checking out the form before this conference – and to review the form with your lawyer – to prepare for the issues being discussed. Generally, the order goes over the discovery schedule as well as what issues are contested.
Additionally, prior to the preliminary conference you’re required to complete & submit a sworn net worth statement (to the degree you haven’t done so already). The form may be found here: https://www.nycourts.gov/LegacyPDFS/forms/matrimonial/Net%20Worth%20Statement%20Form%20(Gender%20Neutral)%20rev.%20June%202016%20Eff.%208.1.16.pdf.
You should also discuss with your attorney whether you have grounds to submit an application for interim orders – such as interim orders of protection, for maintenance (a/k/a “alimony”), child support or custody/visitation. The form for an order to show cause may be found here: https://www.nycourts.gov/LegacyPDFS/forms/matrimonial/PS-Temporary-Relief-OSC.pdf.
During the preliminary conference, the Referee and/or Judge may have settlement suggestions for the parties if they’re just a bit apart on the contested matters. If things cannot be resolved at that time, the next court date is for a compliance conference. At this meeting, the parties discuss with the court where they’re at with disclosure—the exchanging of documents and information.
The Court will also discuss submission of mandatory financial disclosure, including the net worth statement as well as the documents outlined below. The Court will strive to simplify and limit the issues which will be presented at trial – if the case does not settle beforehand (any issues left unresolved may be presented to the Judge at trial). The Court will also establish deadlines for exchange of financial documentation, any necessary appraisals and/or experts, and depositions (if needed). If custody is an issue, the Court may appoint an Attorney to Represent the Child(ren). You should thus be prepared to discuss interim arrangements for custody and parental access – you can get a head start by reviewing the court’s proposed parenting plan order.
Usually, the deadline for disclosure is set up in the preliminary conference. For a wide variety of reasons, everything is not always done by the compliance conference. Sometimes people exchange some documents, but they don’t exchange everything. When items are still missing, the court attorney referee guides the process to complete disclosure.
One should be aware that any issues as to grounds, custody or finances which are not raised at the conference may be precluded from being subsequently raised. At the completion of the conference, the Court will ask all parties to sign-off on the preliminary conference order – your signature will acknowledge that you understand all the information contained in the order and will follow its dictates.
Between the compliance conference and the pre-trial or trial-ready conference, deposition and the completion of paper disclosure occur. The pre-trial conference is your final conference before the court sets to resolve the remaining disputes. The court will expect all disclosure issues to be resolved by the pre-trial conference, as well as references to attempts to resolve them. Most Judges and Referees will not accept excuses from attorneys or parties who don’t do much to resolve disclosure issues. Those discussions should be had amongst counsel in an earnest attempt to resolve them before going into that final conference.
During the course of the contested divorce proceeding, each party is entitled to an exploration of the extent of marital property, the extent of separate property, to discover hidden assets and waste, and to develop information which may be relevant to the determination of the financial issues.
Each side is required by law to produce certain financial disclosure with regard to the equitable distribution issue. Should you fail to produce necessary financial disclosure, the court may assess sanctions against you, which may include precluding you from presenting proof of your income and finances. The list of this “mandatory disclosure” is as follows:
- all paycheck stubs for the current calendar year and the last paycheck stub for the immediately preceding calendar year;
- all filed state and federal income tax returns for the previous three years including both personal returns and returns filed on behalf of any partnership or closely held corporation of which the party is a partner or shareholder;
- all W-2 wage and tax statements, 1099 forms, and K-1 forms for any year in the past three years in which the party did not file state and federal income tax returns;
- all statements of accounts received during the past three years from each financial institution in which the party has maintained an account in which cash or securities are held;
- the statements immediately preceding and following the date of commencement of the matrimonial action pertaining to: (A) any policy of life insurance having a cash or dividend surrender value; and (B) any deferred compensation plan of any type or nature in which the party has an interest including, but not limited to Individual Retirement Accounts, pensions, profit-sharing plans, Keogh plans, 401K plans and other retirement plans.
At a “pretrial conference” date, the parties will have to submit – among other things – a proposed statement of disposition, updated net worth statements, and in some courts (including Westchester), both sides have to submit a “trial notebook.” A trial notebook essentially consists of pre-tabbed exhibits that each party intends to put into evidence – along with witness lists.
If contested matters cannot be fully resolved at that pre-trial conference, the court sets the matter down for trial. They discuss with the attorneys how many days of trial to expect, depending on what is being contested. Typical trials take place over three to five dates. If both custody and financial disputes are involved, trials often last six to eight dates.