Commencement of a divorce in New York state occurs when the divorce process is formally begun by filing the papers with the court. There are many steps in the divorce process. A complex divorce can take many months to a year or more to completely resolve from filing to completion.
A divorce in New York formally begins or commences when the plaintiff files a Notice with the court. This document that states a divorce is being sought and names both parties. The Notice is then personally served on the defendant. The defendant has a specific period of time to respond.
Once the Notice is filed, the case is assigned a number and is in the filing system of the court. It is officially a divorce that is in progress.
Once the Notice has been filed, the case can end in three ways:
- The plaintiff can withdraw the case
- The court can dismiss the case if the plaintiff fails to file the needed documents
- The court can issue a judgment of divorce
Once the initial filings have been made, the parties will have to appear in court for a preliminary hearing. At this appearance, the court will issue temporary orders directing the parties not to sell or dispose of marital assets. The parties may also request temporary orders of custody, child support, or spousal support.
The case enters the discovery phase once the initial filings and preliminary hearing are accomplished. This is a period of time during which both legal teams gather as much information as possible to prepare for trial. The attorneys gather information about:
- Bank and financial accounts
- Children’s expenses, including education and medical care
- Collections, art, jewelry, and other high-value items
- Credit cards
- History of domestic violence
- Homes and real estate
- Household expenses
- Income and financial situations of both parties
- Investments and retirement accounts
- Loans and other debt
- Parenting skills and abilities of both parents
- The children, their situations, and needs
The discovery process can take several months, particularly in a multi-faceted divorce case with many assets. During the discovery process, both attorneys will communicate with each other and discuss settlement options. The court will also schedule a settlement conference to attempt to reach an agreement between the parties. Some aspects of your case will likely be settled before trial, but those pieces that are not agreed upon will move forward to a trial to be decided by the judge.
Preparing for Trial
If a settlement is not forthcoming in the case, your attorney will work with you to prepare for trial. There will likely be documents to review and discuss any questions about parenting, assets, businesses, and debts. Your attorney will also meet with you to prepare you to testify and for cross-examination.
Divorce trials in New York are heard just by a judge with no jury. Your case will likely be scheduled over several days or even weeks if it is complex. Each side will have the opportunity to present their case by calling witnesses and offering evidence, such as documents, records, photographs, and videos.
Once the attorneys conclude their cases, the judge will take time to evaluate the evidence and make a decision in the case. Judges generally do not rule from the bench at the conclusion of the trial. Instead, a Judgment of Divorce is sent to the attorneys in the weeks after the trial with the court’s decision.
Conclusion of Divorce
Your divorce is formally concluded when the court issues the Judgment of Divorce. Once that Judgment is signed, you are officially divorced and single. The Judgment contains all the details of:
- How assets and debts have been valued by the court and are distributed among the parties
- How legal and physical custody of the children is shared
- The amount of child support
- Division of other child care costs such as education and medical care
- Whether maintenance (spousal support or alimony) is ordered
- Whether an order of protection is issued
- Whether the parties can return to the use of their pre-marital names
If you are dissatisfied with the ruling in your case, your attorney may suggest an appeal. An appeal is a request to a higher court to review the court’s decision and determine if it applied the law correctly in your case. Appeals can take many months or years.
Your attorney can guide you through a detailed divorce timeline based on your area's current court calendars. The journey from the commencement of divorce to the final conclusion can be a lengthy process but is well worth the energy to obtain the desired result.