We've all dreamed of finding lifelong love, but not every romance lasts. No married couple plans to become an expert on family law or the divorce process. But some couples will end up in family court for divorce proceedings.
A divorce case involves many issues. These include everything from choosing a method of legal separation, selecting where and how to file, paying the filing fees, and deciding the property division. When minor children are involved, child support, child custody, and a parenting plan can be at issue.
FindLaw's Divorce section has information and resources covering issues in divorce proceedings. This section provides in-depth information on the divorce process. Topics include deciding whether to divorce, how the divorce process works, potential property issues, spousal support, and more. It also includes links to state-specific divorce laws and divorce forms. A divorce attorney can explain your legal rights in the divorce process.
Reasons for Divorce
There are an infinite number of reasons why a married couple may want to divorce. Spouses may need to provide grounds for divorce in some states. Most states now offer what is known as a "no-fault" divorce. A no-fault divorce allows a court to enter a divorce decree without one party having to prove fault.
In a no-fault divorce case, one spouse may allege that there was a breakdown of the marriage. A spouse can allege irreconcilable differences with no reasonable chance of preservation. In such cases, a dissolution of marriage can occur with or without the other spouse's consent. The married couple is not required to give any specific reasons for the divorce in a "no-fault" divorce.
Alternatives to Divorce Proceedings
Depending on your specific circumstances, you may have options other than a divorce. Many states offer legal separations. Legal separations allow spouses to make decisions prior to divorce. These decisions include shared property, child custody, and child support. This option doesn't legally end the marriage. Sometimes couples want to retain their marriage status. Couples may want to do so for religious or health care reasons. When this happens, a legal separation can be an option.
An annulment has the same legal effect as a divorce. An annulment declares that your marriage was never valid in the first place. An annulment could occur because one spouse was already married, tricked into the marriage, or too young to marry legally.
Other options for ending a marriage include a collaborative divorce or going through mediation or arbitration. The dispute resolution process can take a variety of forms. A family law attorney can explain your legal rights and options. They can discuss alternatives that may be preferable to a contested divorce.
Division of Property
The division of marital property after divorce generally depends on state law. State law determines whether you live in an “equitable property" or a "community property" state. Community property states consider property obtained after marriage as owned by both spouses.
Property not part of the marital estate is called separate property. For example, property acquired by a gift or an inheritance may be considered separate property. However, separate property can become a marital asset. Getting legal advice can guide property division decisions.
Absent community property statutes, the court divides marital property between both parties equitably. As a result, the division of property will generally be split equally by court orders. Courts will usually accept a property division agreement the spouses create themselves. In an uncontested divorce, the property division process can be efficient.
Alimony and Spousal Support
Alimony and spousal support are interchangeable terms. Spousal support is monthly financial support from one ex-spouse to another. This financial support can be court-ordered or arranged by the parties. These payments help relieve the adverse economic effect on one party.
All spousal support agreements depend on the spouses' incomes and property. They also depend on earning capacity, the duration of the marriage, and whether child support is involved, among other factors.
The Divorce Process
The divorce process varies under state law. However, the family court process follows a general format. First, one spouse must file a divorce petition in family court with the clerk's office. A party must request a dissolution of marriage. The divorce petition must comply with state law requirements. These requirements often include residency requirements and a waiting period.
A party can request temporary court orders providing legal rights before the court finalizes the divorce. For example, a respondent or petitioner can ask the court for temporary court orders regarding child custody, child support, and spousal support.
When you file a divorce case and request temporary orders, you must provide a copy of the court orders with your spouse. Unless you and your spouse agree on all matters requiring a resolution, the parties should negotiate a settlement. If the agreement fails, the parties can explore other options for dispute resolution. These include mediation, collaborative divorce, or private arbitration. The final step in the divorce process occurs when the judge signs the court order for divorce.
Hiring a Divorce Attorney
The divorce process can be confusing. You may find it worthwhile to incur the attorney fees spent on legal advice from a knowledgeable resource. A family law attorney will provide information and be a skilled advocate for negotiations and possible court proceedings.
In a divorce case, strict legal requirements govern legal rights once a party files a divorce petition. Attorneys aren't required for every divorce, but legal help can benefit many family court cases. This is especially true in a contested divorce where legal advice is critical for dispute resolution. With the complex nature of some divorce procedures and emotions running high, such as in a contested divorce, it often helps to hire a family law attorney.