The legal process is something all people in a lawsuit should understand. Too often, new clients come to us and are confused by the process. So here’s a quick tutorial.
The legal process is always started by filing a Petition, or Complaint.
In legal terms, it’s called a pleading. The other party must usually be served, which means a copy of the Petition or complaint is given to them by law enforcement. It can also be served by someone who is authorized by local law enforcement to serve people. Once served, the other party has twenty days in which to file an answer or response.
In divorce and paternity cases, the next step is providing the other party with financial information. Florida has a rule which requires each person to file a financial affidavit. This affidavit lists the person’s income, assets, debts, and monthly expenses. In addition, each party must provide three months worth of pay stubs, three months of bank statements, and three years of tax returns. With this, a certificate of compliance is filed.
Prior to a case being set for trial, courts often require the parties to attend mediation.
Mediation is an opportunity for the parties to settle their case. The mediator is someone who has been through a course, and who has sat in on several mediation sessions as an observer. Often attorneys also work as mediators, including myself. Mediation is a good process, and if everyone is reasonable, it can be used to solve all types of cases. And if you can’t reach an agreement, the next step is often a trial.
Many courts hold what is called a pretrial hearing before the actual trial. The purpose of this hearing is to ensure there are no pending issues, and that both parties have provided sufficient financial information to each other. Each party must often provide a pretrial statement, listing any witnesses and exhibits they intend to use.
The trial itself is a formal process of providing testimony and evidence, based on the evidence code. Trials can be expensive, and take up a lot of time. However, some cases simply require a judge’s intervention, especially if the parties cannot solve it themselves.
I hope this gives a good overview of the legal process. And if you’re ever in need of help with a family or probate matter, please call us.