People contemplating divorce typically have some idea of what to expect. They've witnessed divorces in the movies and often personally know at least a handful of people who have been through a divorce. In spite of this "second-hand" experience, facing your own divorce is one of the more frightening events in life.
Not only do you face a court-sanctioned ending of possibly one of the more significant relationships you have ever had, but you also must begin to think about such unpleasant things as the division of property and new living accommodations. In many cases, there is also the unhappy prospect of no longer seeing your children on a daily basis.
Predictability and divorce don't go together. But, armed with realistic expectations, you'll have the best chance of being satisfied with the end result of your divorce. Consequently, it's wise to understand the realities of what a divorce can and can't do for you. So what is divorce good for, anyway?
This article explores what divorce can -- and can't -- do for you.
What Divorce Can Do
A divorce court will attempt to divide the property of a marriage in the most economic way possible. Most states will exclude from this division any property that was acquired prior to the marriage or that was acquired via gift or inheritance.
In some states (community property states), this involves a 50/50 split of the property acquired by the parties during the marriage. Other states (non-community property states) will inquire into the couple's individual financial circumstances, length of the marriage, standard of living during the marriage, and other relevant matters in attempting an equitable distribution of the property.
Because the division of property is never predictable, it is best to speak with your soon-to-be-ex-spouse about the division of property. Getting an attorney will also help with the negotiation and settlement process. For example, you may decide that, although you would really like to stay in the family home, you really need to keep your business. Therefore, you might forgo the home in favor of the business. In this manner, you can attempt to strike a mutually satisfying agreement for dividing property with your spouse.
Divorce proceedings can help determine a couple's support obligations. This can come in the form of child support and spousal support (also called "alimony").
Child support payments are now largely set by state law, although there may be some case-by-case deviations. Many states are slowly trying to pass legislation that limits deviation from the standard. Child support orders may depend on the custody arrangements ordered. In general, spousal support largely depends on the facts of each divorce and the divorcing couple's financial circumstances. Therefore, here again, any attempt at predicting a court's ultimate support decision is often difficult.
Child Custody and Visitation
Aside from the distribution of wealth, divorce also can help set child custody and timesharing/parenting schedules when there are children between the parties. This, too, is anything but predictable. While courts often try to make their decision based on a set of factors said to promote the "best interests" of the child, these decisions can vary from case to case and court to court.
Further, judges usually see and hear only the worst of people during heated custody proceedings. So, based on their limited "view" of the parents' lives, a divorce court may not always make the "best" possible decision when it comes to custody. Here again, negotiation and settlement are important options to keep in mind. Everybody involved in the divorce, especially the children, will benefit from a cooperative child custody arrangement.
What Divorce Can't Do
Guarantee Precise and Equal Division
A divorce cannot accomplish an exact or mathematically equal division of property and time with children. Because no two people, no two marriages, and no two divorces are alike. The judge who enters a divorce order must make the best decision with the limited time and information available. It may not always be the fairest possible decision that could have been reached, and you will most likely need to compromise on some of your wants.
Divorce courts often have to make the best of terrible circumstances. For instance, there can be no satisfactory custody arrangement when one parent lives in Cheyenne, Wyoming, and the other lives in Kalamazoo, Michigan.
Ensure Civil Relations
Even though a court can set custody and visitation arrangements, the court will not be present every Friday when it is time for one parent to drop off the kids or spend the weekend with the other parent. The court will not be around to make sure they don't make snide comments about the other parent around the children. Ultimately, a court order is just a piece of paper. The parents will still need to deal with each other in a civil manner to carry out the terms of the custody and visitation order.
Divorce does not take away your responsibility towards your children. This responsibility includes dealing with their other parent civilly, in the interest of the children. Most courts will do what they can when there is high conflict between the two parents, such as reducing face-to-face exchanges when possible. Examples of this might include having parents pick up or drop the kids off at school or church so they don't have to see one another, or if there's a facility that handles exchanges when there is domestic violence involved.
Maintain Your Standard of Living
You should also recognize that a divorce court can't increase your salary to prevent your standard of living from declining once you divorce. Unfortunately, from an economic standpoint, it's simply much cheaper for two people to live together and share expenses than it is to maintain two separate households. Divorce will change your standard of living and there is little, if anything, the court can do about the change.
Resolve Emotional Issues
Finally, a court will not be able to punish your ex-spouse or morally vindicate you for all of the bad things that happened while you were married. Moreover, the divorce process will not heal your emotional wounds or even take away the necessity of grieving the failed relationship. That is your job, although you can seek assistance through therapists and support groups.
Still Want to Get a Divorce? Explore Your Options With an Attorney
As you decide what divorce is good for, at least in your unique circumstance, you're likely finding that you have questions along the way. A great way to get those questions answered is by speaking with a legal expert today.
A skilled divorce lawyer in your state can provide you with peace of mind.