Every state has its own laws for obtaining a divorce, or dissolution of marriage as it is called in some states. Like many other types of civil process, the legal process is somewhat similar in all states. The first step, in any divorce, is that one spouse or both spouses make a decision to initiate a termination of their marriage. Arriving at this decision is different for each individual. While generally not considered part of the legal process per se, how this decision is made may have significant legal consequences. Persons making this decision should consult first with a trusted attorney, a marriage counselor, a financial consultant, and/or any other trusted third party, before taking this often-drastic step.
At first, the legal process may seem complicated and confusing, but usually follows a rational and reasoned course. All issues to be decided, if taken individually, are typically resolved by taking the time to give each some careful consideration, investigation, and objectivity.
The normal issues to be decided in a divorce are how property is divided, how debts are divided, and, between parties with children, how legal and physical custody will be arranged and setting a visitation schedule. Other issues that may arise when children are involved are child support, and medical and childcare expenses. In longer-term marriages, the issue of spousal support may be addressed, and the terms of any prenuptial agreement will be analyzed. Those able to maintain objectivity and detachment while sorting through these issues often find the divorce process can actually help them move on in their lives without the battle scars some receive during their divorce process.
As the answers to legal questions often do, the answer to this question usually generates a set of additional questions, such as:
If, on the other hand, the desired modification involves other issues, child support, spousal support, child custody and visitation, the next question is typically:
As with so many issues involved in divorce cases, domestic violence may or may not play a significant role in the legal process depending upon the exact circumstances. Of course, in cases in which criminal law has been invoked because of the level of domestic violence, it will likely play a significant role in the divorce case. This is especially true in cases involving child custody and visitation determinations. However, if the parties don’t have children and the domestic abuse has been relatively minor, even if law enforcement has been involved, the domestic violence of one party against the other may play a minuscule legal role.
On the other hand, because the very definition of domestic violence implies an on-going pattern of control of one party by the other, using not only physically, but also psychologically and emotionally abusive methods, domestic violence may play a very significant role in the emotional and psychological aspects of divorce. This can be especially true in the original decision-making process of whether or not to initiate a divorce. Many victims of domestic violence leave a marriage because of the abuse, and many victims of domestic violence stay in the marriage because of the abuse, knowing that an attempt at separation might result in an escalation of all aspects of the violence.
Collaborative law is an alternative dispute resolution process gaining popularity in a number of states. In the collaborative law process parties to a divorce, and their attorneys, commit to an honest, open, cooperative resolution of all issues without going to court. In fact, the defining feature of collaborative law is that both parties and both attorneys agree in writing that they will not go to court. Instead, they will provide open, informal, expedited discovery of all relevant facts and documents; they will participate in meetings and commit to bona fide negotiations. Some even agree to the use of a divorce coach or other professionals, such as financial consultants and child specialists, to help them make decisions that result in the best outcome for both parties and their children. If either party or their attorney decides that the case should go to court, the attorneys are both required to withdraw from the case and any disclosures to that point cannot be used in the court case without permission from both parties.
The vast majority of collaborative cases do settle without court intervention. Advocates of the process claim that most parties save significant amounts of money and time through the collaborative divorce process. The atmosphere of cooperation rather than competition sets the stage for future dispute resolution without court involvement, and allows for relationships that are more amicable for the parties.
Alimony, maintenance, and spousal support are legal terms for payments, usually made monthly, from one spouse to the other, often for a certain number of years. Payments may be ordered on a temporary basis during the pendency of the divorce. They also may be permanent obligations. At present, in most states, spousal support payments are used as a means of catching up for those spouses whose circumstances have kept them out of the workplace for a significant period.
Child support is a phrase that generally refers to the amount of money one parent pays to the other to help support their common-children when the parents are not living together. The current state of the law takes most of the contention out of the child support issues. Child support guidelines in most states make it primarily formulaic to determine whom is ordered to pay support, and in what amount.
Physical or legal custody and visitation are terms used when determining the amount of time children spend with each parent and how decision-making authority for major issues is assigned. For instance, a parent may have joint legal custody, the right to share in making decisions, such as in what religion the children will be raised, or what schools they will attend, whether or not they may get their driver license, join the military, or get married, but may have the children physically with them as little as every other weekend.
Divorce and dissolution of marriage are terms for the process by which the marriage of two people is terminated. It may also establish their right to remarry, distribute their property between them according to the law of the state in which they reside, determine whether either party will pay spousal support, and, if they have children, with whom the children shall live and whether one party will pay child support.
Domestic violence is sometimes referred to as intimate partner violence because it is not limited to parties living together. Domestic violence is the control of another through physical, verbal, emotional, psychological and spiritual violence. Intimate partner violence figures broadly in many family law issues, including child custody and visitation. Studies have shown that the period between initial separation and divorce can be the most dangerous for victims of domestic violence and their children.
Prenuptial agreement is a legal term for a contract entered into by parties still contemplating marriage setting forth their intentions how their individual property will be divided should they ultimately separate. If not patently unfair to one party, most prenuptial agreements will be enforced in court so long as the court is convinced the parties entered into the agreement with full disclosure and no coercion, and if the agreement does not work a hardship on either of the parties.
Community property is a legal term that describes the law in some states setting forth the prescribed division of that property that was acquired by the parties, either individually or as a couple, and includes the income of the parties. Some states divide community property equally, while others first make a determination of what constitutes community property and then make an equitable division of the property.
Equitable division is a term that describes the law in most states that provides a process for the division of property of the parties. Taking into account all of the circumstances of the parties division or property is completed according to the equities of those circumstances.
Collaborative law is a process in which divorcing couples and their attorneys make a commitment to alternative dispute resolution instead of resorting first to court. If either party consequently decides to go to court all attorneys must withdraw, and the parties must find new legal counsel.