Navigating the Divorce Process: Steps to Take When Considering a Divorce

There is always a measure of heartbreak when a marriage comes to an end. Divorce can be an incredibly challenging experience, both emotionally and financially. It is a process that can impact not just the couple but also their families and loved ones.

If you are thinking about getting a divorce, you probably have your reasons. However, there are many factors to consider before, during, and after the divorce proceedings.

Having a solid grasp of your legal options is crucial for making an informed decision about divorce. Understanding these legal nuances will also help you proceed in the best way possible for yourself and your children if you have any.

What to Consider Before Getting a Divorce

Divorce has become increasingly common in today’s society. In 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported 1,985,072 marriages and 689,308 divorces in the US.

Before getting divorced, many couples consider the decision. Some situations may allow you to take your time and think about whether divorce is the best option for you. But other circumstances, like domestic violence, may require more immediate action.

Whichever situation you find yourself in, it is easy to overlook important issues when going through a divorce.

Assess your situation

Before getting a lawyer, serving your spouse with divorce papers, and dividing assets, assess your situation carefully. Are you sure about your decision?

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What are your reasons for divorce? Understanding exactly why you want a divorce can help you reassess whether it is the best decision for you.
  • Have you and your spouse used every resource possible to salvage the marriage? Have you gone for couples therapy or other forms of divorce mediation to address your marital problems?
  • Are there any alternatives to divorce? Have you considered legal or trial separation? Giving each other time and space to think things through could be a better alternative to divorce.
  • Are you emotionally and financially prepared for a divorce? Going through a divorce can bring feelings of loss, anxiety, or depression. This can be especially heightened when your finances are involved. Your mental health should always be a priority.
  • How will the divorce affect your children? Even if a divorce is mutual and ends on good terms, it can still have a negative impact on your children. Have you developed a custody or parenting plan that addresses the children’s physical, financial, and emotional needs?
  • How long does it take to get divorced? If it is an uncontested divorce, the couple can finalize the process within a few months. On the other hand, a contested divorce can take several years to finalize. The length of the divorce process depends on the law of the state you live in.

The consequences of divorce

When you are leaving a marriage that is not healthy for you, divorce can feel like the first step to freedom. However, the divorce process can have a lasting effect on the lives of those involved.

Here are a few consequences to consider:

  • Co-parenting challenges: If children are involved, divorced couples may struggle with co-parenting arrangements, custody disputes, and child support responsibilitys. Your children may struggle to adjust to the changes in their family setup, and this can lead to behavioral and emotional difficulties.
  • Legal proceedings: Divorce often involves attending court hearings, divorce mediation, and divorce settlement negotiations. Both partners need to sacrifice their time, energy, and resources to complete these procedures. This can be emotionally draining, and missing work for the sake of legal proceedings can be financially draining as well.
  • Relationship changes: Another factor that makes a divorce heartbreaking is that friendships and relationships can be strained or ended. Shared friends and family can take sides in the divorce or completely distance themselves from the situation.
  • Housing and living arrangements: When a married couple is breaking up, they often have to find new places to live. If you purchased a home together, you may have to sell it to pay for new living arrangements. Division of property can be another stressful part of the divorce process.

The divorce process addresses and affects many areas of your life. It is a decision that requires careful research and consideration. If you have assessed your situation, have considered the long-term effects of divorce, and still wish to proceed, the practical advice below can help you navigate the divorce proceedings.

Seek counseling

When a married couple is unable to resolve their differences, divorce does not have to be the only option. Every marriage is unique, and so are its problems, but divorce should be seen as a last resort.

Seeking professional counseling can help couples work through their problems and mend communication gaps. Options include marriage counseling as a couple and therapy as individuals. These professional services can provide strategies to help you and your spouse healthily resolve conflict and strengthen your marital bond.

The decision to pursue counseling can prevent the emotional turmoil and stress that come with getting a divorce. However, if one spouse is unwilling to attend counseling or put in a visible effort to make the marriage work, there are alternative options you can consider.

Explore alternative options for divorce

Before taking your divorce to court, you may want to consider a few alternatives. The first alternative is counseling. The second alternative is separation. Some studies have shown that up to 10 percent of marriages experience separation and reconciliation, while 12 to 15 percent of separated couples end up reconciling.

Depending on your circumstances, this could be a better option for you and your spouse. Many people who hear of separation may not be aware that there are two types: legal separation and trial separation.

Legal separation

A family law attorney can help you and your spouse create a legal separation agreement. This legal document outlines the terms of your separation as agreed upon during the discussions with your attorneys.

During the meeting with your family law attorneys, you and your spouse will discuss the temporary division of assets, spousal support, and parental responsibilities – among other things.

A legal separation gives you and your spouse clear guidance on how to communicate and work together while on a break. And the biggest benefit is that it is legally binding, so both parties are obligated to hold up their end of the bargain.

Trial separation

A trial separation is a voluntary and unofficial arrangement where a couple decides to live apart for a certain period. Unlike a legal separation, you will not have a legally binding document to help you and your spouse cooperate when it comes to decisions about the children, finances, and other matters.

Educate yourself and research your state’s divorce laws

It is important to understand the divorce laws in your state. Each state has different requirements to qualify for divorce, as well as different divorce procedures. For example, some states require a 1-year separation period before a divorce can be processed, whereas other states do not.

In addition to understanding your state’s divorce laws, you should also understand what type of divorce you want.

Below are several different types of divorces:

  • Fault-based divorce: In some states, you can divorce your spouse because of abuse, abandonment, or substance abuse. In a fault-based divorce, the spouse seeking divorce should provide evidence of the alleged misconduct in court.
  • No-fault divorce: This type of divorce allows couples to legally dissolve their marriage without blaming the other spouse. Divorce based on irreconcilable differences or breakdowns of the relationship falls under no-fault divorce.
  • Uncontested divorce: An uncontested divorce happens when both spouses agree to end the marriage. The couples often reach mutual agreements regarding child custody, child support, spousal support, and property division. Quick conflict resolution makes uncontested divorces less expensive than contested divorces.
  • Contested divorce: A contested divorce happens when both spouses can’t reach an agreement on one or more important issues. In contested divorces, both spouses may hire an attorney to represent them in court, and a judge will make the final decision.
  • Summary divorce: A summary divorce is where spouses go their separate ways without a court hearing or with minimal court time. Some states allow this simplified divorce for people who were married for a relatively short period and have few assets or no minor children.

Questions to ask a divorce attorney

The most accurate advice you can get on your divorce case is from a qualified family law attorney.

Your attorney can clarify the following concerns:

  • On what grounds can you file for divorce?
  • What are the residency requirements for divorce in your state?
  • How are no-fault divorces handled in your state compared to fault-based divorces?
  • What can you get in terms of spousal support and asset division?
  • How can you protect your financial interests during the divorce proceedings?
  • What are the tax implications of divorce, including alimony payments and property transfers?
  • How would health insurance coverage be affected for you and any dependents after the divorce?
  • What is the difference between marital property and separate property?
  • What is the difference between community property and common-law property?

Consider hiring a family law attorney

Although it is not mandatory to have a lawyer handle your divorce case, it would be advantageous. A divorce lawyer can explain your legal options, protect the interests of you and your children, and ensure important documents are filed.

The divorce process can be very expensive. If you are considering getting a divorce, seeking advice from a lawyer can help you create a personalized financial strategy for your situation. An experienced divorce attorney can break down the potential costs of your divorce and explore legal options that can reduce these costs.

How to Start the Divorce Proceedings

Starting the divorce process requires more paperwork than you might imagine. Several documents may need to be filed and steps completed before the divorce process can officially begin.

Step 1: File the divorce petition

A divorce petition is a legal complaint that informs the court and the other spouse of the divorce or annulment. This petition includes basic information, such as the names of both spouses and the location and date of their marriage.

A divorce petition also states the legal reason for divorce and requests for relief, such as:

The petition should also include a statement that at least one spouse meets the state’s residency requirement. A residency requirement means you should have lived in a state for a certain period before you can file for divorce. If you do not meet this requirement, the court cannot accept your divorce case.

Step 2: Ask for temporary court orders

A temporary court order allows decisions to be made for you and your family while you wait to finalize your divorce. The purpose of temporary court orders is to ensure fairness and stability throughout the divorce proceedings. The court can issue these orders on its own initiative or upon request from either spouse.

Temporary court orders typically address matters like:

Step 3: File a proof of service form

Proof of service form is a legal document used to confirm that your soon-to-be ex has been given a copy of your divorce petition and temporary court orders. When served with these documents, your spouse needs to sign the forms to confirm that he or she has received the notice. Only then can the divorce process begin.

If your spouse is against the divorce or wishes to make things difficult, he or she may refuse to sign the divorce papers. If the papers are not signed, a judge will not process your divorce case. In this instance, it would be best for you to hire an experienced divorce attorney to serve the papers to your spouse and help you prepare for the difficult journey ahead.

What to Prepare Before the Divorce

Before filing for divorce, you need to prepare important documents. One of the most crucial tasks is to get your finances in order.

Take these actions to prepare for divorce:

  • Make copies of bank statements, tax returns, credit card statements, summaries of marital assets, mortgage documents, and any other financial statements
  • Take inventory of all your marital assets, like real estate, vehicles, savings accounts, retirement accounts, and investments
  • Determine which assets or debts you and your spouse had before marriage and which were acquired after marriage
  • Convert joint financial accounts to separate bank accounts
  • Update the beneficiary on insurance plans, wills, trusts, and powers of attorney on these documents
  • Create a post-divorce budget that takes into account the cost of living, your income, expenses, and financial obligations
  • Freeze your credit accounts and inform creditors about your divorce and change in contact details

How to Conduct Yourself During the Divorce

During the divorce process, be honest and transparent about your financial situation. Avoid hiding assets or debts, as this could harm the outcome of your divorce. A judge may issue sanctions and require the spouse who hid assets to pay the other spouse’s legal fees.

Maintaining healthy communication during a divorce can be difficult, especially if you have negative feelings towards your soon-to-be ex. However, keeping calm and respectfully dealing with your spouse can reduce conflict and result in faster resolutions during the divorce.

Avoid posting about your divorce on social media. Publicly discussing your divorce proceedings can potentially complicate matters. Sharing too much can create problems.

When you share things online, your posts can be used as evidence to portray you negatively and impact the final decisions of your divorce. Be sure to protect your privacy and maintain discretion by keeping sensitive information offline. Instead, confide in trusted friends and family members privately for support.

A Family Law Attorney Can Be Your Ally in Preparing for a Divorce

Before you decide to get a divorce, there is a lot you need to prepare for and understand. It can feel overwhelming to deal with the emotions of ending your marriage and the legal procedures involved in divorce. But you don’t have to face these challenges alone.

The experienced family law attorneys at Brown Family Law are here to help you understand your rights and make informed decisions. Our dedicated legal team is ready to provide you with the guidance and support you need to achieve a fair outcome.

Whether you are considering divorce or have already filed the petition, we are available to answer any questions you have about divorce. Schedule a consultation with Brown Family Law today. Call us 24/7 at 801-685-9999 to speak with a live representative.

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