Money and property:
Who gets what? What items and accounts legitimately belong to you? Who should keep the marital home? Who gets which car? How about the cottage? The family business? The pets?
Many states classify property owned by the spouses as “marital” or “separate” — the latter meaning that the property belonged to one spouse before marriage or was a gift to one spouse. The goal of property division is “equitable distribution” — meaning an even division of assets and debts. If you negotiate asset division with your spouse directly, be clear about which items are high priorities to you and which ones you would be willing to let go.
The more financially complicated your divorce, the longer this will take, and you’ll likely need an accountant, a business valuator, a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst, a Financial Divorce Specialist, or a financial planner to make sense of all the assets involved. For helpful articles on financial planning, click here.
Child and spousal support:
Often referred to as “alimony” or “maintenance”, spousal support is a monthly amount of money that a financially advantaged divorcee can be ordered (or agree) to pay their ex-spouse, to help maintain a lifestyle to which the latter has become accustomed. Ask your lawyer whether you’re eligible for spousal support — and if so, don’t be afraid to take it. The purpose of spousal support is not to punish your ex but to maintain your lifestyle.
Child support is what a non-custodial parent regularly pays to the custodial parent in order to support the children from the marriage. This way, both parents can financially contribute to bringing up the children, even if one isn’t present on a regular basis. For helpful articles on child support, click here.
Child custody and visitation:
One of the most important decisions is where and with whom the children will live. Is joint custody in their best interests, or should they live with one parent full-time with regular visits with the other? Unless your spouse is abusive, both of you should work together to create an agreement in which you both get a fair share in raising your children. Custody battles in court are usually full of character slurs and accusations that are emotionally traumatic for you — and more so for the children. For helpful articles on child custody, click here.
The waiting period
There is usually a set minimum waiting period between the divorce petition and the final decree. Even if your process is very quick, the waiting period must elapse before the judge officially grants the divorce. Lengths vary between states, but the average waiting period is about six months.
The divorce judgment
After all the issues have been decided (either by you and your spouse or by a judge), a court clerk reviews all the papers and sends them to the judge. When the judge signs a document that officially ends the marriage (a Divorce Judgment Order or a Divorce Decree), you are legally divorced — and free to remarry if you choose.
The divorce process is complicated, and this brief summary doesn’t touch on what an emotional rollercoaster ride a divorce is. It’s a wrenching experience that can cost a lot of money and upset your lifestyle in profound ways; it can also damage your children’s psychological growth if you and your spouse don’t consider their well being and act in a way that supports an amicable divorce. But once it’s done, you’re free to start over — so the sooner you get to the end, the better for all involved. Talk to the necessary divorce professionals (family lawyers, divorce mediators, Certified Divorce Financial Analysts, accountants, therapists, etc.) to find out how to make your divorce process as quick and painless as possible.