Does the Plaintiff Have to Show Up in a Divorce?

by Anna Green

    State laws regarding divorce often differ significantly. Further, rules on who must attend hearings vary based on the nature of the individual case. In some jurisdictions, the plaintiff, or party who is filing for divorce, does not need to attend the final hearing provided the couple agrees on the terms of the divorce. In other states, the plaintiff must attend but not his or her spouse. In some cases, both spouses must attend the final hearing.

    Fault and No Fault Divorce

    In a no-fault divorce, neither party has to establish their spouse acted in a way that led to the divorce. In a fault divorce, however, one spouse must prove that the other party committed adultery, abandonment, cruelty or some other action that led to the breakdown of the marriage. At present, all states have some form of no-fault divorce. No-fault divorce can be quicker and simpler than fault divorce since neither party has to present evidence to establish their spouse performed an act or omission that contributed to the present marital circumstances. In most fault divorce cases, both the plaintiff and his spouse must attend the hearing.

    Uncontested Vs. Contested Divorce

    In an uncontested divorce, both spouses agree to dissolve the marriage. Further, in such divorce cases, both spouses agree on the major material issues, including child custody, division of assets, division of property and financial support payments. In a contested divorce, either one party does not agree to the divorce or the spouses cannot reach agreement on one or more major issues. In contested divorces, the court may require the couple to attend mediation to resolve their disputes. In cases where mediation does not work, the court may hold a trial to resolve the material issues in the case. Both spouses generally must attend these trials, which can be lengthy and costly, as the spouses will need to present evidence and call witnesses to support their respective cases.

    Plaintiffs in Uncontested Divorces

    In uncontested divorce cases in states such as Pennsylvania, Georgia and New York, it is possible for the judge to grant a couple a divorce without either party attending the final hearing. In other states, including Tennessee and Arizona, only the plaintiff must attend the final hearing in an uncontested divorce case.

    Simplified Divorce

    Some states offer simplified divorces for no-fault, uncontested divorce cases for couples with few assets, explains the State Bar of California. In Florida, Illinois and Montana, both spouses must attend the hearing to obtain a simplified divorce. In California, however, neither party needs to attend the final hearing to receive a simplified divorce.

    Locating State Laws

    Couples can begin to research their state's laws, procedures and rules by contacting the office of the court clerk in the county where they reside. Although court clerks cannot provide legal advice, they can give couples general information on the divorce process. Attorneys, low-income legal aid bureaus and online legal document preparation services can also help divorcing couples find state-specific resources.

    About the Author

    Anna Green has been published in the "Journal of Counselor Education and Supervision" and has been featured regularly in "Counseling News and Notes," Keys Weekly newspapers, "Travel Host Magazine" and "Travel South." After earning degrees in political science and English, she attended law school, then earned her master's of science in mental health counseling. She is the founder of a nonprofit mental health group and personal coaching service.

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