Divorce (or dissolution of marriage) is a legal ending of a marriage and the unwinding of your life from your spouse’s. To initiate a divorce, one spouse will file a divorce petition, then both spouses will come to an agreement that divides any property or responsibilities, including the custody of any children.
Fault divorce. The person filing for divorce alleges some wrongdoing, like adultery or extreme cruelty, committed by their spouse.
No-fault divorce. Instead of placing blame, you cite “irreconcilable differences” or something similar. You and your spouse may have to swear to this in a signed statement or live apart for a specified amount of time (often 12 or 18 months).
Contested divorce. You and your spouse disagree on one or more issues, and you need help coming to an agreement.
Legal separation. You, your spouse, and the courts make many of the same decisions as in a divorce (like dividing assets and responsibilities), but you remain legally married.
Before filing, it’s important to decide exactly what you want out of the divorce and include it in your divorce petition.
Issues involving your children:
Courts prefer couples work out these issues themselves. If you can bring the court an agreement that it considers fair to you, your spouse, and any children, it will likely be approved.
Marital property. Everything that belongs to both spouses. It must be divided in the divorce.
Non-marital property. Property belonging to only one spouse. It may include gifts given to only one spouse or investments owned before the marriage.
Spousal support. Also called alimony, this helps a spouse maintain a reasonable lifestyle. It may be temporary or indefinite.
Child custody. This has two parts. Physical custody defines who the child lives with. Legal custody refers to who has the legal right to make decisions on behalf of the child. It is possible for one parent to have sole physical custody while both parents share legal custody.
The general outline of the divorce process is similar, but the details can vary.
Residency requirement. You must have lived in the state for some minimum time before you can file, usually 90 or 180 days.
Waiting period. Your divorce can’t be finalized until a set number of days has passed. This tends to range from 60 to 120 days. In some states it’s longer if you have children.
Distribution. Most states divide property “equitably,” which means fairly but not necessarily equally. Sometimes non-marital property can be given to the other spouse to make the final division fair. A few (community property states) divide all marital property equally and let each spouse keep non-marital property.
If you need more information, you may want to hire a divorce lawyer to help you or at least look over your petition before filing.
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