The decision to get divorced is not an easy one. Once a party has decided to get divorced they may not even know what the process looks like. While there are many different approaches that spouses may choose to take when getting a divorce (we have previously blogged about them here), often there is no other option but court.

One of the first questions we get asked is what does litigation look like? The short answer is that each case is different and there is no way to predict what your divorce litigation may look like. However, the purpose of this blog is to provide you with a framework of what the divorce process may look like if you are forced to bring your case before a judge.

  1. Commencement of the Divorce Action: The first step in any divorce action is to file for divorce. This is done by the filing of a summons and complaint. Once the summons and complaint are filed, you will have your date of commencement.
  2. Serving your Spouse: After you have filed the summons and complaint you are required to serve your spouse. However, it is important to note that you have 120 days from the date of filing the summons and complaint to serve your spouse.
  3. Court Intervention: This is typically the next step after serving your spouse. However, what type of court intervention a party is seeking will vary case by case. Perhaps you just want to get a preliminary conference to set a discovery schedule and to get your case moving. In cases that have time-sensitive concerns that need to be addressed immediately, this may mean seeking court intervention by way of filing a pendente lite motion asking for interim (short-term) relief for finances and/or custody/visitation.
  4. Discovery: The discovery process can be long and tedious. In New York State parties are required to make full and complete disclosure of their finances to their spouse. This requires both parties to exchange all financial documentation concerning their assets (bank accounts, brokerage accounts, retirement accounts, real property, etc.) as well as all debts (mortgages, student loans, credit card, etc.). All tax returns must be exchanged, including business tax returns if one or both parties own a business.
  5. Depositions: Depositions are part of the discovery process but typically are held after the exchange of documents from both parties. During a deposition, parties are questioned, under oath, about finances. In some cases, there may be reason to depose third parties, such as business partners.
  6. Expert Reports/Appraisals: In cases where one or both parties own a business or assets that need to be valued expert reports/appraisals may need to be obtained. Parties to litigation can choose to have a neutral expert and/or to retain their own expert. The process of obtaining an expert is typically done in the early stages of the case as parties want the report to be completed and ready to review prior to depositions.
  7. Court Conferences: From the time you seek court intervention until a trial is held, the court will hold status conferences on your case. During these conferences certain issues may be addressed with the court and the purpose of these conferences is to ensure the case is staying on track to reach a resolution whether it be by way of settlement or trial.
  8. Trial: If you have gone through the discovery process, held depositions, and exchanged expert reports (if applicable) and are still unable to resolve your case, the last step is to have a trial. It is important to note that trials are a time-consuming task for both you and your attorney.

We conclude with a reminder that the above is merely a framework of what the divorce process looks like. Not all divorce ends in settlement and not all divorce ends in a trial. Each case has its own unique set of facts and circumstances which will set the stage for whether the case can be resolved amicably or will need to be tried before the court.

The material in this blog is meant only to provide general information and is not a substitute nor is it legal advice to you. Readers of this article should seek specific legal advice from legal counsel of their choice. In the event that you need legal assistance, please contact Hanna E. Kirkpatrick at 516-393-8259 or