How to Navigate the Divorce Process
Divorce is a difficult process. Even when both parties want to cooperate, emotions run high, and tempers flare. Navigating the divorce process can feel like physical combat. Divorce proceedings may last six months to a year or more, and every day seems longer than the last. Every decision can seem more stressful than the last.
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 need to 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 to understand them.
You should also learn about:
- Where to file for divorce and what divorce forms you need
- Whether you are in a community property or equitable division state
- Filing fees and fee waivers
- Spousal support (alimony)
- Divorce trials, alternative dispute resolution, and out-of-court settlements
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.
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 happy 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.
A last word of advice in high-stress divorce cases is to take care of your mental health. Legal advice is one thing, but you must also take care of yourself. Let your attorney take care of the legal matters so you don't become overstressed.
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 to discuss your situation for personalized legal advice.
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.
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.