After my reconciliation attempt failed I officially sought to file a complaint for divorce in family court. I started by looking for organizations that could provide information and advice on the process. I found exactly one – Equal Rights for Divorced Fathers. The group offered legal advice and paralegal services at a very reasonable price (they provide a wonderful service for lower income men). They also offered an attorney panel on Tuesday night to meet father-friendly divorce attorneys.
Las Vegas is perceived as the home of the quickie divorce. It is true that everything can be solved in a matter of days or weeks if there is a joint petition or the petition is uncontested!
In order to file for divorce in Nevada you must have lived in Nevada for at least six weeks prior to filing. Nevada is a “no fault” divorce state. This means that the spouse wanting the divorce does not have to prove to the court that he/she is entitled to a divorce. Instead, a spouse only has to allege one of the following grounds for divorce: (1) Incompatibility, (2) Insanity for two years prior to the action, or (3) Spouses living separate and apart for more than one year.
There are two methods for obtaining a divorce in Nevada: a complaint for divorce and a joint petition for divorce. A complaint for divorce is the method used when the spouses do not agree on all issues. On the other hand, a joint petition is the method used when the spouses agree on all issues.
A JOINT PETITION IS THE MOST COST EFFECTIVE WAY TO GO!
In fact, I would recommend mediation followed by a joint petition as the single best way to proceed with divorce. Of course, if you have a partner who cannot agree on anything or cannot honor agreements then you have a problem and will need to proceed to a complaint for divorce.
The Clark County Courts provide a self-help center with all the necessary forms and paperwork but the center will not provide legal advice of any kind. You can also follow the progress of your case online here. The fee for filing a complaint is $167.
Once you start reading the paperwork from the self help center, the confusion starts setting in. Legal terms, such as complaint, summons, and injunction, start hitting you along with specific process requirements such as “personal service” and notarization. There are even different places to file documents within the court buiding (such as the clerk’s office and master calendar). The law takes seriously you and your partner’s “right to due process” and will not proceed with incorrectly filed papers (see an earlier post for what I think about due process).
For the record, the complaint sets out what you would like and what the areas of disagreement are. It is simply a matter of filling in the blanks if you use the self-help forms. It must be signed and notarized and three copies made. The original (stamped as the original) must be filed with the clerk’s office and the other two “file-stamped” (i.e. stamped with a seal, date, and time) copies are given back to you. The clerk will also assign you a judge and case number.
Interestingly, in Nevada, you can challenge a judge’s appointment to your case (called a preemptory challenge) for $300. Of course, a layperson does not know which judges might be bad for their case. On the advice of the men’s group I challenged my first judge but they had no information on the recently elected second judge. This, in hindsight, was a problem. You can only challenge a judge before the first hearing on your case otherwise no change in judge is allowed!
One of these copies you must send with your summons which alerts the other party that there is a lawsuit against them. The summons must be formally served on the other party (meaning you need to hire a third party or use a friend to deliver it). An affidavit (a sworn statement to a fact) by the person delivering the summons must then be filed with the court. Most process server companies will do this for you and return a file stamped copy of the affidavit.
A joint preliminary injunction (or JPI) basically prohibits both parties for incurring unnecessary debt or taking the children out of state while the divorce is being resolved. An injunction is something the court has prohibited you from doing. Breaking an injunction suggests that the court might levy sanctions against you (such as fines or even jail). In practice, the breech would have to be pretty major for the court to take notice.
In my case, I had the paralegal from the men’s group prepare the papers for $70. There is a lot of hole punching and stamping required that is very confusing to the novice. The paralegal put a default position in the complaint – namely child support according to the state formula, no alimony, and 50% of the assets. Nevada is a community property state so you are entitled to half the assets.
After you file for divorce, the other party has 20 days to respond. If they do not respond you can request a default judgement. If they do respond then you will need to go to court-ordered mediation to attempt to resolve your differences. If you have children you will need to go to a co-parenting class and file a certificate of attendance with the court.
1. The divorce industry has a very unforgiving process that can be tough for novices to master.
2. Groups exist that can guide you through the system without using a lawyer but you tend to get the ‘default’ option because paralegals are not allowed to provide legal advice just advice in filling out the paperwork.
3. It gets easier to understand the system over time – its just like any other system and its not rocket science – but by then it may be too late.