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What is Divorce Law?

Divorce, or "dissolution of marriage," is the legal termination of the marital relationship. The divorce process is handled by family law attorneys (each estranged spouse retains his or her own counsel) and involves a number of issues, ranging from division of property to child custody.

While it's important to hire a lawyer who is skilled and knowledgeable, it is also crucial to find an attorney with whom you feel comfortable on a personal level. Divorce is generally an intensely emotional process, requiring delicate people skills in addition to legal know-how.

In some limited cases, completing a divorce without hiring a lawyer may make sense, as long as neither party has representation, and there are no minor children involved (FindLaw sells do-it-yourself divorce packages). But most divorces, particularly those involving dependent children and/or complicated property issues, go more favorably with the counsel of a divorce attorney. And if your estranged spouse has an attorney, it's always wise to hire one yourself.

Terms to Know

  • Custody: Having rights to your child. Custody can be either legal, which means that you have the right to make important decisions about your child's welfare, or physical, which means that the child lives with and is raised by you.
  • Prenuptial Agreement: An agreement made between partners before marrying in which they give up future rights to each other's property in the event of a divorce or death.
  • Stipulation: An agreement entered into by the divorcing spouses that settles the issues between them and is often entered into the court's final order or judgment and decree.

Issues Involved in a Divorce

At its most basic, a divorce is a legal process by which two parties terminate their legal and financial relationship. But each divorce is unique and most involve disputes over things like child custody or division of property. Here are the main issues a divorce attorney deals with (see also, Checklist: Issues to Discuss with Your Divorce Attorney):

  • Division of Property: In most states, all property acquired by either spouse after the marriage date is considered "marital property" and is subject to equitable division. See FindLaw's Guide to Divorce and Property Division (PDF) to learn more.
  • Alimony: Alimony, or spousal support, is monthly payment made by one spouse to another in accordance to either a settlement agreement or court order. Alimony is meant to correct for any unfair economic effects of a divorce. See FindLaw's Guide to Spousal Support (PDF) to learn more.
  • Child Support: Child support is a monthly payment usually made by the noncustodial parent to the custodial parent to be spent on the child's needs. See FindLaw's Guide to Getting Child Support (PDF)to learn more.
  • Child Custody: When a family splits up, the parents and the court must decide what is best for the minor children, including where they will live and how decisions are made. This is often the most difficult part of the divorce proceedings. See FindLaw's Guide to Child Custody (PDF) for more information.

Related Practice Areas

Contact a divorce lawyer in your area if you and/or your spouse are considering the process.

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