In some cases, couples are not able to reach agreements about some or all of the issues presented in their family law matter. The family law court is available to make orders on most such disputed issues, but the litigation process can vary significantly based on the issues, location, and personalities involved, among other factors.
In general terms, it is necessary to file certain forms with the court whether or not the parties have an agreed-upon settlement. A Petition and Summons must be filed with the court and served on one party so that the court has jurisdiction to make binding orders. The parties must generally exchange certain information, then an agreement can be negotiated. If the parties are not able to come to an agreement on some or all issues, they can ask the court to make orders on those issues. The court can make orders for support or parenting, or other issues, while the case is pending, and can make orders as to the final disposition of issues as well. Sometimes matters can be resolved in a short hearing, and in other cases a more extensive hearing is conducted to allow the parties and their attorneys to present evidence on the issues and the judge to make findings based on the evidence. In some matters, evidence can be presented by declaration and in other matters, live testimony or other kinds of evidence is used. This kind of court involvement in generally referred to as “litigation.”
Litigation can be useful in cases in which parties are not able to reach agreements on immediate issues, such as temporary support and parenting time. In many cases, parties attend one or more hearings on temporary issues but are able to negotiate a final resolution of their case. In other cases, one party does not participate in the case at all, making it necessary for the other party to ask the court to make orders on all issues in order to complete the case. There can be other factors that make litigation appropriate in specific cases, whether to resolve all issues between a couple or only certain issues. It is important to be aware that litigation is not the only approach available to resolve a family law matter, and in many cases it is not necessary or beneficial. People should carefully consider all of the dispute resolution options and evaluate the option or combination of options that is most appropriate for their situation.
Even in matters in which litigation is necessary, the approach the parties and their attorneys take to the process can make a significant different in the long-term relationship between the parties. This can be especially important if the parties have children together or other reasons to have an ongoing relationship after the divorce is over. We believe that family law litigation should be conducted respectfully and courteously, in a manner designed to reduce acrimony between the parties whenever possible. When appropriate, we also help parties locate resources, such as communication or parenting classes, that can help them develop a more constructive parenting relationship in the future.