Complaints for Divorce/Modifications, Motions, Pre-trial Conferences and Trials are words that may all sound the same to any non-attorney going through a divorce, modification or contempt action with a spouse.
In a series over the next few weeks we will explain the following terms:
- What are Complaints for Divorce, Modification and Contempt?
- What is a Motion and what can I expect?
- What is Discovery and what can I expect?
- What is a Pre-Trial Conference and what can I expect?
- What is the timeline for these cases?
- How are divorce, modification and contempt cases settled?
- What is a Judgment?
The filing of a Complaint with a Court evidences the opening of a new case. In the Probate and Family Court the Complaint is a form document. Once the complaint for divorce, complaint for modification or complaint for contempt is served on the other spouse or ex-spouse your case is on the court’s tracking timeline.
A Complaint for Divorce comes in two forms: a section 1A Complaint is a complaint jointly filed by both spouses along with the Separation Agreement which indicates that you have reached agreement prior to the filing of the Complaint. A section 1B divorce is a Complaint which is not jointly filed, that is, it is filed by one spouse against the other. The first activity before the Judge is usually a Motion for Temporary Orders which establishes what we call the “new world order”. This motion is followed by discovery, a pre-trial conference and ultimately resolution by a judgment reached by either settlement or a trial before the Judge.
A Complaint for Modification is filed after the divorce is over when one spouse wants to change the current divorce judgment. To succeed in a modification case a person must prove that there has been a substantial and material change of circumstances since the divorce judgment was entered. For example, one could seek a modification for custody, child support, medical insurance or alimony if circumstances have materially changed. Modification cases can be as complicated as a divorce case and is sometimes as long and expensive.
A Complaint for Contempt is filed during or after the divorce when one person fails to do what they are obligated to do by the Court. The obligation can arise by something the Court ordered them to do or which they agreed to do voluntarily, but failed to do. Unlike the other Complaints, one for Contempt results in a hearing date assigned by the Court, not selected by either side. If someone proves that the other side is in contempt the judge can award attorneys’ fees to that person, although the amount of attorneys’ fees awarded may not be the amount actually paid or owed the attorney.