Final Hearings in Uncontested Divorce or Dissolution Cases
Final Hearing Attendance
Most state statutes applicable to the termination of marriage include specific provisions regarding the final hearing in uncontested cases. Generally, these provide for more informal and expedited practices. In some states, the final hearings in uncontested cases may be before a family court commissioner rather than a judge. Some states provide that only one party must attend the final hearing. In addition, in some states, if the parties have signed a document resolving all the issues that must be addressed in the case, neither party must appear in court for a final hearing. Upon presentation and review of a final stipulation, the judge will sign a final decree, which incorporates all the provisions of the parties’ stipulation.
Issues to be addressed
To qualify as an uncontested matter, the final stipulation of the parties, sometimes referred to as Marital Settlement Agreement (MSA), must include provisions regarding all the issues to be addressed in a case terminating marriage. These include:
- A fair and reasonable division of property, including debt, acquired during the marriage, and, in some cases, property acquired prior to the marriage, both personal and real, after full disclosure
- Awards of alimony / spousal support / maintenance
- If there are children, what the legal and physical custody and visitation provisions will be
- Whether a party will pay child support
- How medical insurance will be provided for the minor children
- How tax exemptions for children will be handled
- Whether a party wishes to resume use of a former surname
- Whether either party will contribute to the other party’s attorney fees
Despite the fact that final hearings in uncontested cases are typically less formal, as this is an important legal proceeding which involves significant legal issues, the final hearing will be recorded by a court reporter in whatever manner civil cases are recorded in a particular state.
Parties will generally be sworn-in prior to answering questions regarding the legal issues that are addressed in their stipulation.
At the final hearing, the judge will first address whether all the requirements for the court to hear the case have been met, including residency and waiting period requirements.
In those states that require a final hearing, either one party, or both, will likely be required to testify as to the following:
- Full names, addresses, dates of birth, employer, annual earnings
- That there has been an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage
- That the wife is not pregnant
- That there has been a full financial disclosure
- That their agreement regarding division of property is fair and reasonable
- That their agreement regarding custody and visitation is in the best interests of the children
- That they have agreed either that one will pay the other support or that they waive support, and recognize that they will not be allowed to come back at a later date to request spousal support if they waive it now
Documents to be admitted into the Record
Because of the importance of the legal issues to be addressed by the final judgment terminating the marriage, courts will require that a copy of the parties’ final stipulation, addressing all the legal issues, and the parties’ final financial disclosure statements be presented as evidence and admitted into the record at the final hearing, even in uncontested cases.
In many cases, because all the issues are addressed in the stipulation, the parties may have a final divorce decree ready for the court to sign at the end of the final hearing. In other cases, the parties may not have had time to prepare a final decree document. The court will orally decree that the parties’ marriage is terminated, but will be presented with and, after review, will sign the final judgment within a certain number of days after the final hearing. If there is a waiting period before either party may marry again, the court will insure that the parties are informed of this requirement at the end of the hearing.
Vital Statistics Form
Many states require the recordation of statistics regarding termination of marriage. These states generally have a required form that must be filled out at the time of the decree. Thus, parties may be required to provide certain information regarding any prior marriages, level of education, state of birth, etc., to the clerk of court at the end of the hearing.
Checklist: Final Hearing
To read and print out a copy of the checklist, please follow the link below.
You can download a free copy of Adobe Acrobat Reader here
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