The Importance of Deadlines in Divorce Cases
Many clients ask why the divorce process can sometimes take a year or longer. The reason is, most of the time, that divorce moves as fast as the slowest person. What that means is that if one of the spouses wants the divorce over with quickly, the other spouse may not want the divorce at all or may just not be in a place psychologically to move through the divorce process at a rapid pace. So, one spouse will get a decree drafted and deliver it to the other, and it will just sit there and sit there and sit there with no substantive response from the other spouse at all.
How do you keep this process moving under these circumstances? The answer is deadlines. Specifically either Court deadlines or collaborative deadlines by which certain benchmarks must be met. In the litigation model, it means that the lawyer must timely and appropriately prepare the case for trial on its current setting. This means that discovery requests must be sent, expert witnesses must be timely secured and designated, a sworn inventory must be timely prepared, depositions and trial subpoenas must be timely sent out, and all of this must be done on the schedule set by the Court.
Courts typically allow some amount of time early in the case with no deadlines so the parties can work the divorce out themselves. If not, the Court expects parties to prepare for trial. Either the case will settle or it will be tried. A party that follows the Court’s deadlines, but on a parallel track, works to resolve the case amicably has the best chances of successfully resolving the case amicably and by settlement.
The corollary to this in collaborative is to set deadlines to disclose/exchange all information and subsequent deadlines appropriate to the case to allow the case to develop timely and appropriately. Consequences for missing deadlines should be built into the process, so that a party that needlessly drags his/her feet is motivated to move the process forward.
No process works so that it is amicable and inexpensive if only one person participates. That’s not to say that this should be a prompt or hastily moved process. A longer process may be appropriate, especially in complex cases, cases with special needs children, or high asset cases. But, the key to any process working for both parties requires they both participate. Motivation must be part of any divorce process.