It can take a long time to decide to file for divorce. It can be a shock when your spouse files. Both parties may enter into these uncharted waters with the expectation that things will happen quickly. However, divorce is a complicated legal process, and can seem protracted if you don’t know what to expect. According to the website maritallaws.com, the average time to complete a divorce in the Land of Enchantment is a minimum of 180 days. In New Mexico, either party must have lived in the state for at least 6 months prior to filing for divorce. New Mexico is a no-fault state, which means that a party has only to allege “incompatibility” in filing for divorce.
That person with whom you’ve cohabitated with for years – and thought you could “predict,” their behavior – may suddenly send you curve balls you did not expect. Those curveballs can change the typical 6 month timeframe. If you don’t have an idea of the process at the onset it can be frustrating and add unpleasantness to an already difficult time.
Here are some general guidelines about what to expect on the divorce timeline. Being generally aware of the process beforehand can save you time, money and some heartache. It might even influence your ultimate decision and the outcome.
Keep in mind that no divorce is typical, and each case can vary substantially. The following chronology gives a general idea of how an average divorce will proceed.
- Starting the Divorce Legal Process
To start off the divorce, one of the spouses typically hires an attorney who drafts a legal document that says why the spouse wants a divorce and how they want to settle finances, custody, and other issues. In New Mexico this document is called a petition. Your lawyer will work out strategies on timing and pre filing considerations.
- Filing and Serving the Complaint
Once the complaint is final, the spouse’s attorney files the complaint with the court. The filing lawyer must arrange to have a summons issued, then to have the petition and summons served on the other spouse. Typically being served with these documents motivates the second party to hire counsel and get guidance in how to respond.
- Receiving Your Spouse’s Answer to the Divorce Complaint
The served spouse is required to respond to the petition within 30 days of receiving it. The response indicates whether or not the served spouse agrees with the petition.. If he or she doesn’t answer the petition, the court is likely to grant the filing spouse a Default Decree, awarding them everything they requested in the Petition. The response indicates how the served spouse would prefer to deal with divorce decisions.
- Initiating the Property Division Process and Exchanging Documents
The parties are required by statute to exchange information on property, debt and income. By examining this information, the couple and the court can decide how to divide up property and how to deal with child support and alimony, if applicable. Property division in a divorce is presumed to be 50/50 to each spouse of all assets and debt acquired during marriage; however, the parties can reach agreement to any division that works for them (and any children) and the Court is highly likely to enforce that agreement.
- Entering into Mediation or Settlement
Sometimes, the couple can voluntarily resolve all their issues through mediation or settlement. Some states require that divorcing couples go through this process, although in New Mexico it is an option. Mediation can expedite proceedings if done properly. If a settlement is reached, the settlement agreement is put in writing and signed by both parties. The attorneys will draft the court documents needed to reflect the agreement, usually a Marital Settlement Agreement, Parenting Plan, and Final Decree, and finalize the divorce. The agreement itself is not usually filed with the Court unless one party acts in violation of the agreement.
- Obtaining Court Approval for Any Settlement Agreement
If the judge approves the agreement, a divorce decree is entered that incorporates the Marital Settlement Agreement and Parenting Plan. . If the Court does not approve it, or if the couple does not reach an agreement, the case will go to trial.
- Proceeding to a Divorce Trial
At trial, attorneys present evidence and arguments for each side, and the judge decides the unresolved issues, including child custody and visitation, child and spousal support, and property and debt division. Once the judge has reached adecision, the judge grants the divorce, and a decree is issued, binding the parties to the decision.
A knowledgeable divorce attorney can safely guide you through the divorce timeline of events and protect your financial security, using years of experience to identify and avoid potential issues, before they become real problems.