In Oklahoma, you start a lawsuit by filing a petition. The petition sets forth your legal and factual claims, and describes what you want the court to decide. The petition is usually accompanied by a summons, which directs the other party to respond to your claims by a certain date (usually 20 days from the date the other party receives the summons).
If you file the petition, you are called the Petitioner. If you are the party responding to the petition, you are called the Respondent. It doesn’t matter who files first, unless the case can be filed in more than one forum. In that case, you can have a “race to the courthouse.” Otherwise, there is no difference in being the Petitioner or the Respondent.
In family law cases, the petition is also often accompanied by an application for temporary relief. Parties apply to the court to enter orders telling the parties how they will conduct themselves while the case is pending (who lives where, who has possession of what car or other personal property, who pays what debt, who pays living expenses, child custody and support, among other issues). If the parties cannot reach agreement on their own, a court must make interim orders to govern the parties while the case is pending.
In Tulsa County, parents with minor children must attend a parenting plan conference. At the parenting plan conference, the parents will sign a temporary order agreement on undisputed matters about children, property and finances. The Court may refer you for either mediation or a temporary order hearing on those matters still in dispute at the parenting plan conference.
The court will enter a scheduling order. This order sets deadlines for filing interrogatories (written questions answered in writing), requesting documents from the other side, hiring experts, taking depositions (out-of-court testimony transcribed by a court reporter), filing motions, and the requirements for a pretrial conference. They court may have to resolve disputes between the parties during this “discovery” phase of the litigation process, through rulings on pretrial motions.
Your attorney must tailor the discovery process to meet your needs. Attorneys apply the law to the facts of each case to analyze the strengths and weakness of each party’s claims. Supporting testimony and exhibits require assessment for relevance, and proper authentication.
Lawyers for each side will prepare a pretrial conference order for the judge to sign. The judge will resolve any disputes in the format of the pretrial conference order. The judge may also order the parties to attempt mediation before they get a trial date.
Finally, you proceed to a trial before the judge to hear and decide the outcome of the dispute. The court may request written findings of fact and conclusions of law. In the litigation process, you do not control the result, the process, the timing, or the costs. The lawyers and judges control all of these things. However, if other forms of dispute resolution have failed or been rejected by one or both parties, it represents the one guaranteed means to a decision in your case.
As you can tell, the lawyer’s experience, knowledge of law and procedure, and advocacy skills will come into play throughout the litigation process.