How to Navigate the Divorce Process

Divorce is a difficult process. Even when both parties want to cooperate, emotions run high, making it difficult to make objective decisions. Divorce proceedings may last six months to a year or more, and every day seems longer than the last. Every decision you make can feel stressful.

It doesn't need to be that way. Some simple suggestions on do's and don'ts can help keep the divorce process running smoothly for everyone involved.

Divorce Process Basics

You can start by educating yourself about the proceedings and what you'll do as things progress. You should start by talking to a divorce attorney. Even if you don't hire one, you should know about family law. You also need someone to review your divorce papers when you complete them.

You have an uncontested divorce if you and your spouse can agree on property division, spousal support, child-related issues such as custody and child support, and want to end your marriage amicably.

Anything else is a contested divorce. If you have marital property to divide, child custody, child support, and spousal support to work out, or you and your spouse cannot agree on what to do, you have a contested divorce.

In a contested divorce, you need a family law attorney. The state laws about custody, child support, and parenting time are complex, and you'll need help understanding them.

You should also learn about:

Most family courts require couples to attend divorce mediation as part of the divorce process. Divorce mediation involves the couple and their attorneys sitting down with a neutral third party to discuss any irreconcilable differences the parties still have. Mediation can help resolve the couple's issues in the settlement agreement.

Considering Whether to Divorce

The time when people had to live in a loveless, abusive, or adulterous marriage “for the children" is long past. Couples should consider carefully before deciding a few irritations are “irreconcilable differences" and divorcing. There are other alternatives to divorce.

Today, all states have a version of “no-fault divorce." This means that either party may file for divorce without proof of any flaws in the marriage. Even in a no-fault divorce, state laws vary on the requirements for divorce. Some of the requirements may include:

  • Marital counseling: Some states will order counseling before granting a divorce. This lets the couple discuss their problems with a therapist and talk about child custody and other issues with a third party.
  • Trial separation: In some states, couples must be living separate lives for a period of time before the divorce. You need to consult a divorce attorney about the time period. Most states will not grant a divorce if you and your spouse still live together.
  • Residency: You must live in the state where you are getting the divorce. It may be as brief as six weeks in Nevada or as long as two years in New York.

Other factors to consider in a divorce are allegations of abuse or domestic violence. In these cases, couples should seek legal advice immediately and not attempt to work things out alone. Separation may be the best alternative in these cases.

What To Do During a Divorce

  • Be patient. Divorce is a legal process, and it takes time. When the clerk or your attorney says the respondent has 30 days to answer, don't expect an answer sooner than 30 days from now.
  • Be honest. Disclose all assets and property on your financial statements. Admit to all debts and liabilities you owe. Hiding assets makes you look bad and gives the other side ammunition for court orders.
  • Be reasonable. Cooperate as much as possible with your soon-to-be-ex. Compromise yields faster results in divorce cases.
  • Be a good parent. Support your children through this process. It's even tougher on them than on you. It's best to keep your children out of the divorce process as much as possible.
  • If you have a temporary order for custody, follow it to the letter. Always let your ex-spouse know where you and the children are while you work out permanent custody arrangements.
  • Talk to your attorney. Divorce law is complex and confusing. The divorce settlement is binding, so make sure you understand and are satisfied with everything.

If you're unsure you want a divorce, you should ask about alternatives like legal separation. Legal separation acts as a partial divorce. Couples live apart, and their finances are separate during the arrangement. The marriage does not end, and any marital assets and debts remain community property.

Legal separation is an option for couples with religious prohibitions against marriage or couples who aren't sure if they want to end their marriage. Ask your attorney about legal separation before filing a divorce petition and severing your marriage.

What Not To Do During a Divorce

  • Don't get angry. Domestic violence spikes during divorce proceedings. Leave the room if you get physical during the divorce.
  • Don't leave. Put off the big move out of state or out of the country until after your divorce is final. This is especially true if you have child custody arrangements.
  • Don't talk about your divorce on social media. Everyone posts their woes on Facebook and Twitter these days. Avoid that. In a contentious divorce, you're bound to say something you will regret in court.
  • Don't hide assets. Never “loan" property to friends or sign bank accounts over to other family members. Fraud is a sure way to lose your divorce case to your ex-spouse.
  • Don't make the judge angry. Do not argue with the judge. You're paying attorney fees to someone else so they can represent your interests. Let them do so.
  • Don't go it alone. Facing another attorney is too complex for a layperson. An attorney can ensure your interests are protected.

If you're in the midst of a high-stress divorce, remember to take care of your mental health and manage your stress. Legal advice is one thing, but you must also care for yourself. Let your attorney take care of the legal matters so you can focus on your emotional healing.

Experienced Attorneys Know How To Navigate the Divorce Process

Divorce isn't easy on anyone: you, your soon-to-be ex, and especially your children. The divorce process is an emotional and legal minefield. Get the help you need with your divorce case and contact a divorce lawyer in your area today. An experienced divorce attorney can discuss your situation and offer personalized legal advice.

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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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