What Is Divorce Good For?

It's important to approach divorce with realistic expectations. A divorce will impact several areas of your life. But, it also has its limitations. When facing your own divorce, you should understand what this legal process can and cannot do for your finances, children, and marital relationship.

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 unpleasant things, such 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. In any divorce case, things can get very messy. Continue reading to learn more about how to navigate the divorce process. Divorce can sometimes bring out the worst in people. It's important to know what to expect if you're considering a divorce.

What Divorce Can Do

In any divorce, you can either engage in divorce mediation or take the divorce to court. In rare cases, you could obtain an annulment. With an annulment, your marriage would be treated as though it never existed.

You could, of course, try a legal separation with your spouse, which would not officially dissolve your marriage. After a trial separation, you could consider a divorce again.

Whatever decision you make, you must have your divorce case heard in a local court if you choose to take the divorce to court.

Below, you can learn more about what divorce proceedings can do.

Property Division

A divorce court will attempt to divide the property of a marriage in the most equitable way possible. Most states will exclude from this division any property acquired prior to the marriage, or 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 look at:

  1. The couple's individual financial circumstances
  2. The length of the marriage
  3. The standard of living during the marriage

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.

Support Obligations

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. 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 interest" 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. Based on their limited view of the parents' lives, a divorce court may not always make what the parties see as the "best" possible decision when it comes to custody. So, 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

Family court judges do their best to resolve divorce cases as fairly and efficiently as possible. But there are a few things that aren't guaranteed in a divorce, such as:

Precise and Equal Division

A divorce cannot accomplish an exact or mathematically equal division of property and time with children. 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.

Civil Relationships

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 ensure 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 they might go to a facility that handles exchanges when there is domestic violence involved.

A Certain 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. 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.

Resolution of 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.

Grounds for Divorce

You can pursue a divorce on many different grounds. They can range from irreconcilable differences to infidelity. Sometimes, the grounds can depend on where you live. It's possible that in one place, you could seek a divorce for a reason that you can't in another.

All states offer "no-fault" divorce as an option. These states generally only require a couple to state that their marriage is irretrievably broken.

If you need general information about these grounds and other aspects of divorce, review FindLaw's “How to Divorce" page. It has many answers to frequently asked questions.

An Alternative to Divorce: What Is Legal Separation?

Legal separation is an alternative for couples who are unable or unwilling to legally divorce. Some couples do not want to divorce because of their religious beliefs but cannot live together. Legal separation can be the answer.

In a legal separation, the parties go to family court and complete a separation agreement like a divorce agreement. They make child custody and child support arrangements just as in a divorce. Part of the settlement agreement requires them to live separately. However, legally they remain married. They cannot marry other people.

A separated couple can continue the process and get a divorce. If they want to resume living together, they need a court order ending the separation. 

What Is an Annulment?

An annulment is a legal invalidation of a marriage. The parties in an annulment claim that their marriage did not exist by law.

Annulment is rare today, and the grounds for annulment are hard to prove. They include:

  • Fraud or misrepresentation: If one party lied about a material fact to enter the marriage, it could invalidate the marriage.
  • Mental incapacity: Both parties must be able to give knowing and voluntary consent to the marriage. Inability to consent because of age, mental illness or disease (such as Alzheimer's), or other mental disorder, may be grounds for annulment.
  • Duress or coercion: The “shotgun wedding" is a thing of the past. Both parties must give consent freely without fear or threat of force.
  • Incest: All states have incest laws prohibiting marriage between closely related individuals. These generally forbid marriage between couples closer than third cousins.
  • Bigamy: All individuals must be single at the time of entering into marriage.

Still Want To Get a Divorce? Explore Your Options With an Attorney

As you decide what divorce is good for in your unique circumstance, you'll likely find that you have questions along the way. A great way to get your questions answered is by speaking with a legal expert. As difficult a legal process as divorce can be, it's important to get the help you need.

If you can't afford an attorney and you need legal help, consider contacting Legal Aid in your city. These organizations provide free or low-cost legal assistance to qualifying persons.

It doesn't matter what your unique set of circumstances are. You could be:

Or you might even just need help filing your paperwork at the clerk's office in your city. You could be confused by communications with the court clerk. Perhaps, your DIY approach isn't working. It's even possible you're dealing with an uncontested divorce, but you still might be struggling with the process or your divorce court case.

Whatever set of circumstances you face, a skilled divorce lawyer or family law attorney in your state can provide you with peace of mind. This area of family law can be one of the most stressful and painful. If you're considering a divorce or in the midst of one, contact a lawyer today. Their legal advice can help you through any divorce-related issue. In any divorce, it's likely best to avoid a do-it-yourself approach.

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Can I Solve This on My Own or Do I Need an Attorney?

  • You may not need an attorney for a simple divorce with uncontested issues
  • Legal advice is critical to protect your interests in a contested divorce
  • Divorce lawyers can help secure fair custody/visitation, support, and property division

An attorney is a skilled advocate during negotiations and court proceedings. Many attorneys offer free consultations.

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Don't Forget About Estate Planning

Divorce is an ideal time to review your beneficiary designations on life insurance, bank accounts, and retirement accounts. You need to change your estate planning forms to reflect any new choices about your personal representative and beneficiaries. You can change your power of attorney if you named your ex-spouse as your agent. Also, change your health care directive to remove them from making your health care decisions.

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