The time frames described in this timeline set forth the general sequence of a simple and typical Utah divorce action that goes to trial.
Unique and special circumstances, rules, or situations could (and likely would) alter the time frames or steps shown here, in this timeline.
So this timeline does not reflect what happens in all cases, but does illustrate generally what you can expect, if you’re not dragging your feet through the process.
A Note on Mediation
Utah law (Utah Code § 30-3-39) requires that a divorcing couple participate in at least one session of mediation before the case can proceed to trial, although this mediation requirement can be waived for good cause, if the director of the dispute resolution program for the courts can be persuaded to conclude that mediation should be waived. Waiver of mediation rarely occurs, so you are typically better off giving mediation a try, even if it’s only for the purpose of ensuring you’ve met the requirement.
Mediation can last for several hours or over the course of several days, depending upon what the parties choose to do. If mediation results in you and your spouse reach an agreement and settling all of the issues, then it is not uncommon for your divorce action to be completed quickly; you and your spouse prepare and sign a settlement agreement, file that with the court, and then draft and file with the court the documents needed to dispose of your case. Once the court receives proof of your settlement and all the documents that the court needs to issue your decree of divorce, it is not uncommon for everything to be turned around in just a few weeks.
If you and your spouse do not agree upon the terms of your divorce, and one or both of you feels it necessary to go to trial and have the judge decide some or all of the issues in your divorce action, then this is how the process of preparing for and going to trial in your divorce case progresses:
Meet with your attorney, provide information needed to prepare your pleadings.
Prepare and file your complaint for divorce.
Service of process. Serve opposing party with a summons and a copy of complaint for divorce. Service of process usually takes about a week but can be longer if the opposing party evades service. You must serve the summons within 120 days of filing the complaint or your case can be dismissed.
Weeks 2 through 5:
Within 21 days of being served the summons and a copy of the complaint (30 days, if you serve the opposing party outside the state of Utah), the opposing party must respond to your complaint after being served with the summons and a copy of the complaint. Usually this response takes the form of what is known as an “answer” to the divorce complaint or, in most cases an answer and counterclaim. If the opposing party files a counterclaim against you, you have to respond within 21 days of being served with the counterclaim.
If a party fails to respond to a complaint for divorce (or to a counterclaim) within 21 days of being served (or within 30 days, if the opposing party was served outside the state of Utah), the opposing party is known as being “in default,” which means that the opposing party has failed to respond to your complaint for divorce within the time permitted, which allows you to seek judgment against the opposing party for failure to respond and participate in the action. This rarely happens, and even if you apply for default judgment and obtain it, if the opposing party moves to have your default judgment set aside in a timely manner, so that the case can be heard and decided on the merits rather than by forfeit, courts will often set aside the default on that basis. Still, don’t let that give you the idea that you can ignore court deadlines.
Week 6 through 8:
Prepare your Financial Declaration and Initial Disclosures and serve them upon the opposing party. The opposing party has 42 days after filing of the first answer to the complaint, or 28 days after the opposing party’s initial appearance in the action, which ever period is later.
This is the discovery period.
Discovery is the process by which the parties through the rules of civil procedure, can obtain evidence from each other and from other witnesses or other sources. Discovery tools include interrogatories, request for admissions, requests for production of documents, depositions, mental health examinations, custody evaluations, vocational assessments, and subpoenas, to name some.
Under the rules of civil procedure this period is 180 days long, unless the court modifies the time period for discovery. Rarely, if ever, is discovery shortened, although it can be. And frequently discovery is extended beyond the 180-day period.
At this point, the case should be ready to certify as ready to schedule for trial. If so, either party can file with the court a certificate of readiness for trial, and then ask the court to schedule a date for the judge and the parties to meet to preparations for the trial.
Week 43 to 47:
Trial is usually set about 3 months, give or take, after the pretrial scheduling conference.
Trial is held. Trials usually last 2 to 5 days, although they can take longer, depending upon how many issues there are to try and how complex the issues are.
Week 57 (or perhaps 61):
After the trial has been completed, the judge can take up to 60 days to decide the case, unless the judge obtains permission from the presiding judge of the court to take even more time to render a decision. Usually the court reaches a decision within several weeks, instead of 60 days, however.
After the judge decides the case, the judge will usually direct one of the parties to prepare a proposed draft of the Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law and to prepare a proposed draft of the Decree of Divorce.
The party who the judge has the proposed Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law and the proposed Decree of Divorce is required to send the opposing party the drafts for review. If the opposing party finds anything in the proposed Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law and/or the proposed Decree of Divorce that does not comport with the trial judges decisions, the opposing party can file an objection to the proposed Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law and/or to the proposed Decree of Divorce, and the opposing party has seven days in which to do so.
If the opposing party files an objection to the proposed Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law and/or the proposed Decree of Divorce, the other party can respond to that objection within seven days. At that point the proposed Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law and the proposed Decree of Divorce are submitted to the judge for the judge to decide what the ultimate form of the Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law and of the Decree of Divorce will take.
Assuming that the court gets back to you within a week or two, the court will then issue the final Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law and final Decree of Divorce.
If either party or both parties feel that the judge’s decision does not comply with the laws governing divorce, then either party or both parties may appeal the judge’s decision by filing a notice of appeal with the Utah Court of Appeals, which notice of appeal must be filed within 30 days after the date of the entry of the Decree of Divorce.