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Typical Pleadings & Terms in Divorce Process

Parties who are beginning an action for divorce or legal separation in New Mexico have a lot on their minds; in addition to mourning the loss of a relationship, there can be a lot of anxiety associated with the uncertainty of the process.  It helps to understand that there is a fairly routine process in divorce cases.

All divorces will follow this process.  However, some divorces will get down this path in a cooperative, conciliatory and therefore direct route.  Others can follow a much longer, stressful, and expensive route with the normal process augmented in significant ways.  Having said that, there is a pretty straightforward map toward divorce. How the parties navigate that map is entirely up to them.

The standard process for a divorce in New Mexico will involve the following pleadings:

1.    Petition for Dissolution of Marriage- this is a pleading filed with the court that initiates the divorce process. The person filing the Petition is called the Petitioner and they are asking, or petitioning, the court to dissolve their marriage, in other words to grant a divorce.  This petition must be filed to get the divorce process started.

2.    Temporary Domestic Order– a temporary domestic order (or TDO) is issued by all New Mexico courts at initial stage of a divorce proceeding. The TDO includes a list of actions that parties to a divorce must follow while the divorce is pending. For instance, the TDO prevents parties from disposing of assets, incurring new debts or removing children from the state without the approval of both parties.   There are many other terms in the TDO which are enforceable orders for which violation can result in a variety of sanctions including a order of contempt.
3.    Service of Process — in addition to filing the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage, the Petition must be served on the Respondent.  Once the Respondent is served, he or she has 30 days to file and Answer.
4.    Answer to Petition for Dissolution of Marriage — the Answer is the Respondent’s response to the Petition.  The Respondent must respond to each and every count in the Petition.  The Answer must be filed within 30 days of service of process or the Petitioner may file a Motion for Default.
5.    Marital Settlement Agreement (MSA) — the MSA is the end goal of every divorce.  It is a contract entered into between the parties.  Most importantly, it sets forth the agreement of the parties as to how all of the community and separate assets and debts will be divided.   It also addresses alimony.    Often called an MSA for short, this agreement is typically adopted as an order of the court by entry of the Final Decree of Dissolution of Marriage, which means that it can be enforced not only as a contract, but as a court order.  In the event that the parties cannot agree on the terms of the MSA, the case will be set for trial.
6.    Final Decree of Dissolution of Marriage- this pleading is filed at the end of the divorce process.  It is an order entered by the court granting the Petitioner a divorce from the Respondent.   The final decree generally describes each party’s rights and responsibilities after the divorce with respect to property, debts and custody of any children. The details of those rights and responsibilities are typically laid out in an MSA or Parenting Plan, which the Final Decree incorporates by reference and adopts as an order of the court.

Despite the normal process, every case is a little different, even the routine cases.  As such, though these pleadings are a normal part of the process, the substance of these pleadings will vary greatly with each case.

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