How do matters proceed in a divorce action?

Divorce petition

The proceedings are initiated with a divorce petition that has to be submitted to the court by a lawyer. The other party then has six weeks to respond to the petition by submitting an answer. A single postponement of four weeks is permitted for this, so that the total period for submitting an answer amounts to 10 weeks.

In the petition, the petitioner asks for a divorce to be pronounced. The petition may also deal with other topics. These are called ancillary applications. Examples include asking for child support and partner alimony to be fixed, the division of community of property, final settlement in accordance with the marriage contract and a scheme covering pensions.

Parenting plan

If there are any children of the marriage still in minority, then the divorce petition must include a parenting plan. The parents have to make arrangements on care, child support, the manner in which important decisions about the children are taken and they also have to inform the children about these arrangements. If the parents have been unable to make any arrangements about the children and have not signed a parenting plan, the judge can stay (suspend) the proceedings.

Court hearing

After the petition and answer, there is a verbal hearing at the court where the parties, represented by their lawyers, can have their say in the presence of the judge, after which the court issues its decree. What often happens in practice is that there are several court hearings, when the court may instruct the parties to provide further evidence or exchange further written documents. If either of the parties disagrees with the court decree, an appeal may be filed with the Court of Appeal within three months. Ultimately, there is an option for a cassation appeal to the Supreme Court, against the decision by the Court of Appeal. You have to bear in mind that the proceedings may take a long time.

Disciplinary measures

While the divorce proceedings are ongoing and until the judge has issued his decree, either of the parties can ask the court to issue disciplinary measures. This is usually a fairly quick procedure. A separate petition for ‘provisional relief’ has to be submitted to the court. The court can, for example, fix a provisional child support and partner alimony provision and decide which of the two spouses may remain in the house for the time being.

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