Petition: To start a divorce case, one party, "petitioner," files a petition with the court requesting a divorce from the other party, "respondent." It is typically unimportant who files first. The court's computer randomly assigns each case a judge and domestic relations commissioner, where they are available. One party must have been a resident in the county for three months immediately prior to filing the petition for the court to have jurisdiction.
Service or Acceptance: Petitioner must legally "serve" a copy of the petition on respondent. This can be done by using a constable, who will "serve" the document on respondent, or respondent can sign a document that accepts the copy without requiring a constable to serve it. It is not enough to simply hand a copy to respondent.
Answer and Counter Claim: Within 21 days (30 days if respondent lives out of state) of "service" of the petition, respondent must file an answer, admitting or denying each claim of the petition. Respondent may file a counterclaim, which means he or she asks for a different resolution of the issues.
Temporary Orders: The parties may agree to, or the court may order after hearing, a temporary method of handling the issues until the final divorce is entered. If there is a commissioner handling the hearing, no testimony is usually taken; if there is no commissioner, the judge will hear the matter an my take testimony. The temporary order controls the conduct of the parties during the course of the divorce action, until there is a final decree.
Initial Disclosures and Discovery: This is the process of acquiring and exchanging information between the parties.
- Initial disclosures include financial declarations, tax returns, income verification, and other backup documents.
- Petitioner must be prompt in providing disclosures 14 days after service; and,
- Respondent must provide his or hers 42 days after filing of the first answer to the complaint or within 28 days after that defendant's appearance, whichever is later.
- Discovery may consist of interrogatories (questions), requests for documents, requests for admissions and, possibly depositions (a formal question of a witness or party), as well as the gathering of information from experts.
- The timing and quantity of discovery is controlled by rule, and needs to be used wisely.
Mediation: This is the process of meeting with a trained, objective third party, usually an attorney, who attempts to facilitate an agreement between the parties. Utah requires that mediation occur before a pretrial can be requested.
Stipulation: This document is an agreement between the parties on any issue or issues, and can happen at any time, though usually does occur after mediation if the mediation was successful.
4-903 Conference: When custody is in issue and if there is a custody evaluator appointed to address custody, the court usually holds this conference where the evaluator meets with the parties and discloses the basic findings on custody. With those disclosures there may be another mediation. If there is no agreement, there may be another pretrial seheduled.
Pretrial: A pretrial is held before the commissioner (where present) or judge and if no full agreement is reached, the unresolved issues are "certified" for trial before the assigned judge. In courts where there is a commissioner, the assigned judge may hold his or her own pretrial.
Trial: When the parties cannot come to agreement, even after mediation, an evidentiary proceeding is held before the assigned judge. At this stage parties and witnesses are sworn in and testify. Trials can be held to resolve only certain questions, or the entire divorce case, and can be one day or multiple days.