Divorce in the United States is governed by the law of the state in which the divorce happens. The divorce proceedings will vary depending on the circumstances of the couple and whether they have children or assets. Divorce proceedings can cover child custody, child support, division of debt and distribution of property, as well as the payment of spousal support.
Divorce proceedings, historically, carried a requirement to assign fault to one of the parties and for there to be a reason for the divorce- whether that reason was adultery, abandonment, sterility, or some other reason. Today, every state now offers a ‘no fault’ divorce option, which is often described as ‘irreconcilable differences’. The courts will still consider the behavior of each spouse when deciding on asset distribution, child custody and other issues. Some states may require that a couple go through a period of separation before the divorce is finalized, and some will also require that the members of the couple attend therapy.
Knowing Your Rights When Your Spouse Files for Divorce
If your spouse has filed for divorce, it may feel like your world is falling apart. If your marriage has been unhappy for a while, then you may have known that the filing was coming. If not, and it is a surprise to you, then your first step should be to consider how to handle the news.
The divorce period can last for as little as two months, or can drag on for several years, depending on how complex or contested the case is. Remember that the divorce filing does not mean that the divorce has happened. It could be that you will work things out, go to therapy, separate, get back together and then enjoy your life together after that. It could be that you will end up getting divorced and that you need to consider your rights and responsibilities and find a way to ensure that your kids are fairly treated and that you split your assets in a way that is fair.
Talk to an Attorney
As soon as you receive the divorce papers, talk to an attorney. Do not do anything else. Do not leave the family home. Do not verbally agree to anything. Take care with what you say to the kids. Be careful and find an attorney that you trust and that you feel comfortable dealing with.
Make sure that your behavior is beyond reproach from now on. Try to avoid drinking excessively, taking drugs, or engaging in any form of addictive activity. Manage your finances well. Knuckle down at work. Take good care of yourself and try to be a good parent if you have kids. Sleep on the sofa or in a spare room if necessary and keep your head down. You don’t want to provide ammunition for the divorce proceedings.
Over the coming months you will find out where you stand. A few things might happen:
Your ex may announce an intent to sue for sole custody of your children.
Your ex may make untrue accusations.
Your ex may petition for more child support than you feel is fair.
You may express an intent to settle, which is then refused by your ex, leading to more legal fees and a longer divorce process. You may be lucky and have a painless process.
While the divorce is ongoing, you should be able to have contact with your kids. If you own your marital home, then it is worth trying to stay there in many cases, but you may opt to move out if your attorney believes that it will not impact on your long term case regarding property or contact with the kids.
If you move out, try to maintain a regular schedule of contact with your children. Do not let your spouse goad or bully you. As a parent you have a right to see your children, and to be involved in their day to day upbringing. If you are the parent who expects to get primary custody, and your ex has the higher income, then you have the right to a reasonable amount of maintenance and child support. The longer you have been married, the better the case here. Do not let your spouse make out that you are being greedy for claiming what you are entitled to in order to support your children.
If you are the parent that is likely to get custody of the children the majority of the time, then it may be ruled that you should live in the marital home so that the children can stay where they have been growing up, continue to attend the same school, and generally have continuity in their life. If that is the case, then you should understand that this ruling is not always a permanent thing. Sometimes, the courts will rule that the family can stay there until the youngest child turns 18, and then the house will be sold, and the proceeds split between the couple. This is something that Dean Hines will be able to advise you on.
Divorce can be a painful thing, but if you can keep your cool and work with your attorney then it can work out well and provide relief for you. It can be sad, yes, but it is also an opportunity to open a new chapter in your life. The finalization of the divorce is a sign that yes, you now have a new life and you are free from lawyers and allegations and stress. Your relationship with your ex may even improve once the specter of a court case is gone. You may never get back the love that you once had, but you will get to have a better co-parenting relationship and you will be able to be amicable to each other in most cases. So, don’t panic if your spouse files for divorce. Try to stay calm and to rise above any conflict. It will smooth the process for everyone who is a part of your family.