Divorce, the legal process of ending a marriage, is rarely easy for anyone involved. Along with the strong, and often confusing, emotions that are typically involved, you must also navigate a legal system with which you are likely unfamiliar. Learning more about what to expect during your divorce will likely help you feel a bit less anxious. Given the highly unique and personal nature of divorce, you should direct specific questions about your divorce to your Murfreesboro divorce lawyer. There are, however, some common steps in most divorces, such as the “Discovery” process. To help you feel better informed during your divorce, a Murfreesboro divorce lawyer explains the Discovery process.
Divorce Basics – Initiating the Divorce
The divorce process may be initiated by either spouse. The party initiating the process is the “Petitioner” while the other party is referred to as the “Respondent.” The Petitioner begins the divorce process by filing a Complaint for Divorce with the appropriate court. The Complaint sets forth basic information about the parties and alleges the grounds on which the Petitioner seeks a divorce.
Like most states, the State of Tennessee now allows a Petitioner to file using a “no-fault” option which only requires that you allege that the marriage no longer functions as it should but without casting blame on either party. Tennessee also continues to allow a Petitioner to use one of 13 “fault” grounds, such as adultery, living apart for two years without minor children, or habitual drunkenness. If you choose to use one of the fault grounds when you file for divorce you must then prove that allegation during the course of the divorce.
When the Complaint is filed it was also be officially served on the Respondent along with a Summons explaining how long the Respondent has to respond to the Complaint. If the Respondent files a written Answer within the allotted time frame, and that Answer denies any of the allegations in the Complaint making it a contested divorce, the divorce proceeds to the Discovery phase. If the Respondent files an Answer that agrees with everything in the Complaint, and the parties agree to all the terms of the divorce, they can file a written Marital Settlement Agreement and move on the finalize the divorce. If the Respondent fails to file an Answer at all, the Petitioner can ask for a Summary Judgment which effectively gives the Petitioner what he/she asked for in the Complaint.
The Discovery Process
In a contested divorce, the next phase is the Discovery phase. Discovery allows both parties to investigate the facts of the case, by obtaining evidence from the opposing party and others by means of discovery devices including:
- Requests for Answers to Interrogatories – this allows you to ask the opposing party open-ended questions. For example, in a divorce where custody of the minor children is contested you might ask “How would you describe your relationship with the minor child?” or “What type of childcare arrangements would you make for the children if you were granted custody?”
- Requests for Production of Documents and Things – allows you to ask for specific documents or tangible evidence, such as tax returns, electronic records, or photographs.
- Requests for Admissions – as the name implies, this asks the opposing party to admit or deny things by asking carefully worded questions.
- Depositions – a Deposition is like a preview of a witness’s testimony at trial. The witness must appear at the designated place and time, usually a lawyer’s office (not a courtroom), whereupon he/she is asked questions, under oath, by the opposing party’s attorney. The answers are recorded by a court reporter and may be used at trial under certain circumstances.
These Discovery tools allow both sides to get a fairly good idea of how strong their case is and what the strengths and weaknesses of the opposing party’s case are. Once Discovery is complete, the parties may decide to negotiate a settlement agreement or may proceed to trial.
Contact a Murfreesboro Divorce Lawyer
If you are contemplating divorce in the State of Tennessee and you have questions about the discovery process, it is in your best interest to consult with an experienced Tennessee divorce lawyer at Bennett, Michael & Hornsby as soon as possible to ensure that your rights are protected. Contact the team today by calling 615-898-1560 to schedule your appointment.