Step 1: The Application
The Application is usually the first step in any Family Law court proceeding. The Application is a written document which is submitted to the court as the initiating pleading of the court action. In an Application, the “applicant spouse’s” lawyer will ask the court to grant the types of relief listed in the Overview. Also, the lawyer will “plead” or state the facts which form the basis for the relief claimed. This is applicant spouse’s opportunity to tell the court the story of the circumstances of the marriage and to put forth their position in terms of what will be best for the children. Because an Application is a document that starts a court proceeding, it has to be served on the “responding spouse” personally. This means that a process server has to deliver the Application into their hands in order for the Application to be effective.
Usually when an applicant spouse starts a contested court proceeding, they must submit a Financial Statement to the court along with their Application. The Financial Statement is a document that the applicant spouse’s lawyer prepares stating the applicant spouse’s income, expenses, assets and liabilities. There are different Financial Statements for parties who were married and those who were not as different information is necessary in each case. In order for your lawyer to complete the Financial Statement, you will have to provide them with your full and accurate financial disclosure. Full financial disclosure is a hallmark of the family law system and, as such, it is taken very seriously by the courts. This is why any spouse submitting a Financial Statement must attend at their lawyer’s office and swear that the contents of the document are true. Financial Statements must be updated on a regular basis in order to keep the court informed of changes in the parties’ financial circumstances.
Step 2: The Answer
The Answer is the document that the responding spouse uses to address the claims put forth in the Application. The responding spouse tells the court if they agree with any of the claims made in the Application and also puts forth any additional facts that they feel that the court should now. Also, the responding spouse is allowed to make claims of their own if they feel that the Application omitted necessary types of relief.
In addition to responding to the claims made by the applicant spouse, the Answer allows the responding spouse to make their own claims. This means that the responding spouse can raise claims that the applicant spouse has omitted to include.
The responding spouse must submit their Answer within 30 days of receiving the Application. If they fail to do this, the applicant spouse can proceed in their court action without further notice to the responding spouse. This means that the applicant spouse can have a trial before a Judge without the presence and/or evidence of the responding spouse. For this reason, it is imperative that you seek legal counsel as soon as you are served with an Application.
A responding spouse must also submit a Financial Statement with their Answer. Their Financial Statement follows the same rules and procedures discussed above.
Step 3: The Reply
Once the applicant spouse has received the responding spouse’s Answer they have an opportunity to submit a Reply. This must be done within 10 days of receiving the Answer. The Reply provides the applicant spouse with an opportunity to respond to any new claims raised by the respondent spouse in their Answer. The applicant spouse is not permitted to raise any new evidence or claims in the Reply.