Every state has a different set of laws when it comes to filing for divorce. The main goal is to remain as civil as possible, especially when children are involved. Divorce is never easy and is an emotional time in a couple’s and family’s life. However, the entire process can be broken down into steps to make it easier to understand. There are three parts we can break this down into the steps of each part. These are the key factors that must be agreed upon before, during, and after the divorce to make everything smooth.
- Child custody
- Child support
- Division of marital property
Part 1: Agreeing on the Primary Issues
When it comes to this part, this is probably the most difficult. The reason being is that the reason the couple is getting a divorce is that they cannot agree on anything. However, there has to be an agreement on everything, so the best thing to do is sit down, remain civil, and talk it out.
Step 1: Come to An Agreement on Child Custody
When the couple has a child or children, the first thing is determining who will have legal custody. These are the issues that need to be discussed in the child’s upbringing.
- Religious upbringing
- Medical Care
- Who will be the guardian?
- Visitation rights
Step 2: Talk About Child Support
It is the responsibility of both parents to support the child or children. The primary giver is the one who pays for the necessities, and the other parent, who we will call the visiting parent, is the one who pays child support. According to a formula, the judge will figure out how much child support is to be paid to the other parent. A judge has the final decision if more or less than the formula is required for payment. In situations where the child has special needs, the judge will award more child support payments to the caregiver.
Step 3: Discuss Alimony
In some states, alimony is called “spousal maintenance.” One spouse is responsible for paying the other a sum of money over a certain period. It can be for as long as agreed upon. The one taking care of the child will most likely be awarded alimony if they are not working while the child is in their custody, disabled, or any other reason the judge sees fit. Once again, the judge has the final say in the matter. Usually, business partners will have to pay alimony to the other who is not working. In some cases, there is no alimony needed.
Step 4: The Marital Property Needs to Get Divided
Most courts will divide everything 50/50, but not always. They will go with what is fair. If one spouse makes more money, then they will receive less marital property. This is a list to help determine what needs to be split. Only stuff acquired within the marriage is split, not what either member had before they were married.
- Real Estate
- Personal Property
Step 5: Divide the Debts Acquired While Married
The debts are divided by the same as everything else in the marriage. If one spouse signed off on the debt, legally, it is still split by the courts. The best thing is to get it all sorted out before going to the courts. Most of the time, the person with a higher income will have more responsibility for paying off the debts.
Sometimes the debts can come close to being split 50/50 if both spouses make the same amount of money. It may work out in some cases where the party who took out the debt is responsible. For example, one may have student loans and the other a car loan. Both amounts are close to the same, so the one who took out the loan will be responsible.
Step 6: Write Up a Separation Agreement
All agreements should be written down, and both spouses need to sign the deal. In some locations, a Notary Public may be required. In addition, some states have their own template to complete the agreement. It is essential to use these as they are the legal documents that will hold up in court.
Step 7: Come Up with a Parenting Plan
Both parents must come up with separate plans on how they plan to agree on custody. However, some are allowed a joint parenting plan. When an agreement cannot be made, the judge will look at both and develop what they feel is the best option for the child.
Step 8: Get Consultation from an Experienced Divorce Attorney
It is critical to get experienced divorce attorneys to guide you through the steps and the court’s processes. Some people go the route of a facilitator. They can overlook the paperwork, but they are not an attorney. They only can make sure everything is filled out correctly. If everything is agreed upon, an attorney is not always needed. However, it is in the best interest to get one because things change at a moment’s notice, and it can get pretty ugly, especially if one topic is not agreed upon.
Part 2: The Filing of the Divorce
Now that the agreements are out the way, the actual filings can take place. Listed below are the steps to how the procedures should take place.
Step 1: Get the Right Court
The court to file in is the court where you live. It must be the domiciled state.
Step 2: Collect the Divorce Forms to Fill Out
Many forms have templates or fill in the blanks to make it easy to file. In addition, some courts have websites where you can download and print out the forms, or you can pick them up at the Clerk of Court’s Office. Every state is different, and the forms are different if children are involved or not.
Step 3: Fill Out the Forms
The forms or the petition must be filled out completely. Then there is the case information sheet and summons that also need to be filled out. Everything should be completed carefully and accurately. It is critical to double-check the information is put down in the right places, and everything is honest. If filing for divorce jointly, a summons is not necessary. Some forms need a Notary Public for the seal of approval. A divorce attorney is usually a Notary and can assist you with this step. All identification is required licenses or passports.
Step 4: Go to the Courthouse and File the Forms
Two copies should be completed. One should remain in your possession, and the other will be served to the spouse. There is a fee at the courthouse. Every location and state is different. Sometimes the costs can be waived if you cannot afford the fee or there is spousal abuse involved. When this happens, a judge will waive the fees.
Step 5: Get the Papers Served to the Spouse
This is the opportunity for the spouse to rebuttal if needed. Once the papers are served, everything is now in the hands of the one who is served. They can either agree to everything or get their lawyer and fight any of the agreements. This is why it is so critical to keep copies of the divorce papers before they are served.
The spouse who is served has a choice to accept the service. First, however, they have to sign and complete a Waiver and Acceptance of Service form before a Notary Public. Usually, it is a Sheriffs’ Deputy to serve the papers, but it has to be someone who is not associated with the divorce.
Step 6: Complete the Remaining Forms
After the papers are served, other forms need to be filed, like the sworn financial statements. These also need to be signed before a Notary Public. One copy goes to the spouse, and the other is filed in the courts.
Part 3: Finishing with the Divorce
These are the final steps to ending the marriage. Below are the steps required to complete the final objectives.
Step 1: Review the Response of the Spouse
The spouse who was served with the papers can deliver a response to the petition. The answers contain if there will be any disputes on the division of property, spousal maintenance, or child custody.
Step 2: Set Up and Attend a Status Conference
If any disputes arise, a conference must be set up, and all disagreements must be on the table during this time. The courts will inform what documents, if any, need to be brought to the meeting.
Step 3: Mediate All Disputes
Mediators may be required to solve all disputes. This is the best option to save time and money if there are any disagreements. The last thing anyone wants is a massive fight in the courtroom. This mitigates most of the tensions.
Step 4: Finalize a Divorce that is Uncontested
If the divorce is uncontested, which means no disputes and all parties agree, no one has to show up to court. The judge automatically signs off on the divorce, and that is it. The divorce is final.
Step 5: If the Divorce is Contested, Finish the Case
These cases are the ones that end up in court when the couple does not agree on the divorce agreements. Witnesses may be brought in, child custody arguments begin, and testimonies are given on both sides. No two cases are the same. In the end, the judge has the final say, and sometimes cases get reviewed in the months ahead, especially with children involved.