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Community Property States

Divorce Property Division: Community Property States vs. Equitable Distribution States

It’s no surprise that things get split in a divorce, but how? What does the law say? Most states in the U.S. use the “equitable distribution” system to determine each spouse’s property share in a divorce. However, nine U.S. states use the “community property asset-allocation” principle. These are community property states.

In order to understand your circumstances, it’s important to understand the difference between community property distribution and equitable distribution. In this article we will discuss the differences and as well, how community property states can protect women in particular, and why courts may view some marriage agreements as invalid.

What is the Community Property Distribution?

Community property is a method of dividing marital property at the time of divorce used by the following nine U.S. states: Arizona, Nevada, California, Louisiana, Idaho, New Mexico, Washington, Texas, and Wisconsin.

The laws in these community property states mainly originated from Spanish jurisdiction. The exception is Louisiana, where France enacted their property laws. The main difference between these two influences is that in Louisiana, spouses who have assets and debts characterized as community property can withdraw or modify the community property profile only after jointly filing a petition approved by the court to assist their best interests.

In the Community Property States, property acquired during the marriage is classified as jointly owned by both spouses. However, in these states, the court also recognizes separate property.

Separate property cannot be split 50-50 in divorce. It includes assets that partners acquired before the official marriage registration and after its end (after a divorce). It also covers gifts and inheritance received by one of the spouses at any time.

What is Equitable Distribution in Divorce?

Equitable distribution is the second method for dividing marital assets. The list of equitable distribution states includes 41 states. Exceptions are Alaska, South Dakota, and Tennessee, where spouses can choose community property options. As a result, residents and non-residents can transfer assets into a valid community property trust.

As practice shows, the number of such hybrid states is increasing over the years. For example, on July 15, 2020, Kentucky also adopted an optional community property system. Following the Bluegrass State, Florida, on July 1, 2021, set a Community Property Trust Act that allows partners to “opt-in” to community property treatment for assets kept in a trust that meets civil law requirements.

In non-community property states, the assets and debts are divided equally during a divorce. However, “equally” does not mean a 50-50 split. It means “fairly.”

When separating assets, the judge may grant each spouse a percentage of the total value of the property and debts, depending on each partner’s contribution to the marriage and other factors considered.

The judge could also order one side to use separate property to make decisions fair for both parties. The court applies this rule quite often when one of the spouses illegally hides assets from separation. For example, in California, for hiding assets, the court can punish the spouse with 100% payment of the value of this asset to the other partner.

Equitable Distribution vs. Community Property

As discussed, in states with community property, the law declares that spouses have equal control of all money and property earned during the marriage. Therefore, it can be beneficial for women or the unemployed.

For example, if a woman cares for a child or is a homemaker, her financial contribution to the marriage will likely be minimal. So, even if only one spouse receives income from employment, and the other is unemployed, the court will divide the property 50-50.

In addition, since all community property acquired by spouses is considered joint, regardless of whose name it is registered, debts are also considered shared. Obligations include car loans, mortgages, credit cards, and other marital debts.

However, the system of dividing property has “disadvantages” that can lead to higher alimony (spousal support) payments. For example, a court may decide that a spouse paying half of a family’s debt may need a higher amount of spousal support to maintain the standard of living during the marriage.

States with an equitable distribution of property have a more complex system, as the court takes many factors into account. For example, the property that partners acquire in marriage transfers to the spouse who made the purchase.

In addition, the judge can consider the financial contribution of each party to the marriage. This factor, on the contrary, may reduce the family property received by unemployed spouses or homemakers.

Related articles: Do Stay-At-Home Moms Get Alimony?

Breadwinning Women Face an Uphill Battle When Married and When Divorcing

What Affects Property Division During Divorce

There are general factors that affect asset division during divorce. The court considers primarily the following:

  • The marriage duration
  • The marital standard of living
  • Age of both spouses
  • Right to alimony/spousal support
  • Earning potential of each spouse (education, job prospects, etc.)
  • Both spouses’ contribution to the marriage (childcare, work, etc.)
  • Health status

Depending on the case specifics (the presence of children, where the child lives, etc.), the judge may consider additional factors when making decisions in states that follow the equitable distribution principle.

Correcting the Past

Many women live in strict patriarchal or “traditional” families, where the husband/father controls the family finances. Property may even be transferred through the male descent line. This causes some women to worry that they will face the same issue during a divorce: that they may not receive any assets if they divorce.

It’s important to know that regardless of your family culture, men and women living in the USA have equal rights today.

According to The Married Women’s Property Act, which was passed in New York in 1848, women have the full right to receive and freely dispose of the spouse’s property acquired during the marriage. The document also includes the status of a woman’s separate property, which remains hers even during marriage.

Following New York, in 1849, the California Constitutional Convention adopted the Married Woman’s Property Act into the state constitution. And over the following decades, other US states passed this act one by one.

Nowadays, women have the same property rights in divorce as men. They can inherit or receive assets with full discretionary authority.

Are Gifts from Spouse Separate Property?

This may sound surprising but in states with community property and equitable distribution laws, the court considers one spouse’s gifts to the other spouse as family property in a divorce. In contrast, if a third party gives a gift to one of the spouses, it is a separate asset.

So if your husband gives you a pearl necklace for your birthday, that necklace is considered family property and not automatically yours if you divorce.

Do Prenuptial Agreements Affect the Property Division?

Marriage contracts as with prenuptial agreements are an excellent tool for eliminating future, controversial issues during a divorce because they can bypass some 50-50 assets division matters. To create a prenup, spouses enter into the agreement mutually before the wedding.

And the court usually accepts the prenuptial agreement. However, before creating a prenup, partners should take into account the specifics of their state. For example, California has specific requirements that spouses should follow to ensure that the court does not decline their prenup.

Further, in California, there are specific issues the spouses cannot “pre-agree” on in the prenup. These include the issue of custody, support payments, and parental visitations. This is because the court tries to make decisions in the best interest of the child.

Spouses can negotiate the following terms in a prenuptial agreement:

  • debts division
  • how their property will be divided upon separation
  • the duration and size of spousal support.

What Happens to Community Property and Equitable Distribution When One Spouse Dies?

If a spouse dies before getting the final divorce in a community state, the other spouse has absolute rights to half of the community property. And, if one of the spouses dies without a will, their half of the family property automatically goes to the surviving spouse. However, if the deceased partner had a will, they could only distribute their 50% of the community property. If more than 50% of the community property is indicated in the will, the court can cancel the will until justice for the surviving spouse is restored.

In the equitable distribution states, similar rules apply in the case of the spouse’s death. If there is a valid will, the distribution of property will go under it. In the absence of a will or if the will is invalid, the children and the surviving spouse have the right to receive the whole property.

Is it Possible to Divide Property without a Court?

In both equitable distribution and community property states, spouses can independently agree on the division of family property. Many couples prefer this method as they know best what property they want to acquire.

To do this, both spouses have to agree to the terms. Lawyers can help negotiate this on behalf of each spouse. Mediation or a DIY approach to divorce can also accomplish this. But both spouses must agree to the terms.

When spouses come to terms, settling all marriage and divorce-related issues without relying on the court, this is called an uncontested divorce. In an uncontested or amicable divorce, your divorce agreement is submitted to the court after you and your spouse sign it. The court in turns reviews it, making sure that both spouses have no objection to their chosen division of property, and grants their request.

To best optimize your divorce for an uncontested or amicable divorce, you’ll want to read this article Top 6 Tips for an Amicable Divorce.

Final Words

If a couple cannot come to an agreement in an uncontested divorce, then their case becomes “contested” and the court will settle the breakup terms under the specific laws of each state and the couple’s circumstances.

However, it’s important to know as well, that new amendments and divorce laws are always appearing in legislation. It is wise therefore to consult with a divorce attorney in your state before you make any moves (including negotiating “casually” with your spouse). You will want to know specifically how a court would rule regarding your divorce issues and in particular, your claim to assets.

Though the research says women are happier than men after divorce, the research also suggests it is more challenging for women economically. This is a solid reason for you to get educated before you agree and sign anything.

Notes

Jamie Kurtz is a divorce lawyer and a member of the LA County Bar Association and the State Bar of California. She’s a co-founder of a law firm dealing with uncontested divorces and a contributing writer for OnlineDivorce.com, an online divorce papers preparation service.

Since 2012, SAS for Women has helped women face the unexpected challenges that women endure while navigating the divorce experience and its confusing aftermath. SAS offers women six FREE months of email coaching, action plans, checklists, and support strategies for you and your future. Join our tribe and stay connected.

6 Ways to Be Debt Free After Divorce

6 Ways to Be Debt-Free After Divorce

Going through a divorce can feel incredibly draining: emotionally, psychologically, and—of course—financially. While emotional healing can be a long, winding road, one objective way to start fresh is to work towards eliminating your financial debts as soon as possible. Clearing your debts can serve as a powerful method of beginning a new chapter of your life, signaling to your subconscious and the world that you are capable of making positive, impactful changes in your own life. In order to tackle your debt, you must have a proper plan and thorough knowledge about the best ways to get rid of your divorce debt. To help, we are sharing the top 6 ways to be debt-free after divorce.

Reducing Your Debt

As per the Centers for Disease Control Prevention (CDC), the divorce rate is around 2.7 per 1,000 people in 45 reporting states, including the DC. The majority of the couples going through a divorce can find it challenging to deal with the debt situation. Nevertheless, you can use these methods to reduce your debt and soon eliminate it.

1. Consolidate your Debt 

The first thing you need to do is consolidate your debt to bring down your interest payments. For example, women often put the fees involving their divorce process on their credit cards because they don’t have direct access to funds. As a result, they end up paying high interest on those cards. Therefore, the first thing that you need to do is clear all those high-interest loans.

Read more about smart hacks for debt consolidation,

2. Negotiate with Creditors 

The next thing you need to do is negotiate to bring down your debt or interest rate. If you have a good payment history and a good reputation among the creditors, they will be more than willing to facilitate you in your hard times.

You can always negotiate with your lenders to bring down the interest rates if you have a good credit score and history. As a result, you can save the money you pay in interest and bring down your debt.

Let’s say you owe back tax taxes to the IRS. Contact the IRS and ask to be put on a payment plan which will reduce the interest you would normally pay had you not asked to be put on a payment plan.

3. Divide your Loan

Once you end your marriage, (even before it’s officially recognized by the divorce document) it is imperative to take responsibility for the monies or loans you are liable for.

If your spouse or Soon-to-be-Ex spouse does not make the payments on time, you will be held responsible. You will share the blame for it even if you share no responsibility in your divorce contract. This can significantly impact your credit score and history.

As an independent woman, you need to develop your credit history for the future. Therefore, if you have any joint loans with your Ex, you should refinance them. This alone is a good reason to consult with a financial person once you know you will divorce.

Paying Off Your Debt

Now that you are able to bring down your debt, it is time to pay it off. To avoid hassles, the right strategy is vital. If you throw all your savings into clearing out the loans, it could result in other financial problems. So instead, here are a few ways you can plan to fully eliminate your loans.

4. Increase your Sources of Income 

When it comes to debt elimination, increasing your income is imperative. You can use the extra money in hand to chip away at your debt and get rid of the financial burden. Although it won’t be easy, it is best to eliminate your debt.

You can look for part-time opportunities that you can take up after your job. These part-time opportunities are often called side-hustles. Maybe you have a particular talent or passion that could complement your full-time job—like tutoring others in a foreign language, or designing flower arrangements for parties, or creating website designs? You could also ask your current employer to increase your salary or look for a job with a higher salary.

In a nutshell, your strategy needs to be about increasing your income. And the good news is that divorce is often a catalyst for getting creative and practical with your life. It can inspire your ambition to find more challenging things to do and to be compensated for it.

Related: Divorce Recovery: 10 Things to Do If You are Suddenly in Charge of Your Finances

5. Look for Ways to Get More Cash 

Apart from getting another job, you can also look for ways to increase the cash in hand. For instance, you can always throw a garage sale and sell items that you do not need. What about your luxury items that may be sitting on your shelf… or parked in that same garage? Anything from watches and jewelry (wedding rings?) to handbags or vehicles. There’s often a market for your unused items and a consignment or specialty platform like eBay or Poshmark that specializes in selling these things. Investigate your options and purge your possessions wherever possible.

6. Cash in your Life Insurance 

Another way to pay off your debt is by cashing your life insurance. It can help you get the number of funds you need to clear off your debt. The best part is, even if you have beneficiaries, you can take a small amount out of the policy and leave the rest of the proceeds for the people you care about.

Before you cash out your life insurance policy, however, make sure you investigate the fees you may pay for doing so. There will be charges.

The Most Important Takeaway…

Going through a divorce and dealing with your debt situation can be difficult, and even terrifying. The massive transition from your old life to your new one will likely take some time to get used to. But the goal of getting rid of all your debt needs to be on the top of your list.

Freeing yourself from debt means no longer having to pay a huge interest fee each month. With that monkey off your back, you will feel not only financially relieved but emotionally liberated.

To summarize, remember: you should plan to consolidate your debt to get a lower interest rate and then increase your income to pay off the debt quickly.

Notes

To learn how your debt might be consolidated and what steps you can take to move forward feeling more financially free, you are invited to schedule a free consultation with Lyle Solomon, the author of this article and a principal attorney for the Oak View Law Group in California. Lyle graduated from the University of the Pacific’s McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento and is a specialist helping people rid themselves of debt.

Since 2012, SAS for Women is entirely dedicated to the unexpected challenges women face while considering a divorce and navigating the divorce experience and its confusing afterward. SAS offers women six FREE months of email coaching, action plans, checklists and support strategies for you, and your future. Join our tribe and stay connected.

How long does it take to get a divorce by weheartit

How Long Does It Take to Get Divorced?

When you want a divorce, it can’t happen fast enough. But, when you don’t want it or aren’t prepared, it can pull the rug out from under your life. The time it takes to get a divorce depends on a lot of factors — some within your control and some not. One thing that is always within your control? How wisely you use the time you have to prepare once divorce is inevitable.

Regardless of your initiative, mere compliance, or opposition concerning your divorce, your desire and need to know a timeline are understandable. Everything about the divorce process and its aftermath is time-sensitive.

Your first instinct is going to be to consult with “Google & Google, LLP.” Starting your research at the most obvious place makes sense.

But be careful and discerning as you collect information. Google can be a veritable rabbit hole, leading you from a general search with reputable sources to a downslope of information, advice, and questionable links. And it can quickly become overwhelming.

Anyone who has had to do academic research knows the cardinal rule of using primary sources. The reasoning is obvious: to avoid the dilution, changing, or skewing of information.

Educate Yourself with Up-To-Date Information

Online research is no different, but has the added considerations of fast-paced change and, unfortunately, a maddening dose of questionable integrity.

Just be careful and always consider the source. (Besides, the detailed, specific information you ultimately need will come from your team of experts – your divorce coach, attorney, financial planner, etc.)

Also, take note of dates on articles and be cautious about giving any information. You are getting educated and collecting information. Nothing more.

Google is a great place to get your compass pointing in the direction of familiarization and the reliable resources that will guide your journey.

You may have even found this site SAS for Women through a general search. But, as you click through our website, you see that it is thoughtfully, thoroughly, and securely developed. And the information shared here is consistent, reliable, and based on trustworthy sources.

This is the kind of confidence you need and deserve to have in your resources when the difficult time comes to get a divorce.

Again, always consider the source.

Your approach to getting educated about the divorce process can make a huge difference in the smoothness and outcome of your divorce.

It will directly influence your confidence and ability to deal with the inevitable stress of this life-changing process.

It will potentially help you save money and time and avoid making mistakes.

And it will lay the groundwork for how you move forward – and the people who become part of your life – after your divorce is final.

How Your State Affects Your Divorce Timeline

Your first online search should be for your state’s divorce process – and specifically its residency and waiting-period requirements. 

Every state will have its own laws regarding how long you have to live in the state before you can get a divorce. It will also have its own requirement (or lack thereof) regarding how long you have to wait before your divorce can proceed and be finalized.

State-by-State Comparisons

In Texas, for example, the petitioner has to have lived in the state for at least six months prior to filing. Texas is one of the states that also have county residency rules.

Texas also has a “cooling off period” of 60 days from the date of filing. Why? To make sure one spouse or both spouses aren’t rushing into a “forever” decision because of a temporary and/or reparable period of discord. (This is especially understandable when children are involved.)

What this means is that, if you live in Texas, and choose an uncontested divorce vs. a contested divorce, you could be divorced in as little as 61 days.

However, if you and your spouse have points of contention regarding custody, assets, fault vs. no-fault, etc., you will add on both time and expenses.

California, as notorious as it is for the “Hollywood” marriage-divorce-remarriage-divorce cycle, has a six-month waiting period for divorce – one of the longest.

New Jersey, on the other hand, has no “cooling off period.” While a typical divorce involving children and assets takes about a year, a simple, no-fault divorce could be complete in weeks.

State-by-State Residency and Waiting Periods

Getting familiar with your state’s laws for the divorce process is one of the best and easiest ways you can help yourself. (Paul Simon wasn’t kidding when he sang 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover!)

Some states, for example, have long residency and waiting periods and may even have required separation periods and parenting classes. Have a momentary lapse in confidence and come back together for a let’s-make-sure weekend of cohabitating? The clock will start again.

If you’re looking to get a divorce quickly, living in states like Vermont, South Carolina, and Arkansas could test your patience.

Read more about the fastest and slowest states for getting a divorce to get a sense of where you stand.

Avoiding Litigation

Divorce is no stranger to the DIY approach. While you can find all the necessary forms online if you and your spouse decide to go that route, please be careful! If there is anything that could be a point of contention or complication, you are better off with legal representation.

Even if you choose a non-litigated path like mediation, you would do yourself good service by getting a legal consultation. And, whether you are simply “consulting” or hiring an attorney for the entire process, avoid hiring cheap divorce lawyers.

Even couples without years of accrued investments and complicated finances will have financial considerations, usually outside their areas of expertise.

Protecting Yourself Against DIY Divorce Mistakes

The disparity in income levels, years in or away from the workplace, years spent as a stay-at-home-parent, retirement funds, health/life insurance, mortgage – it all matters. And it all has relevance far into the future.

Women especially tend to take a hard hit financially after divorce, and they don’t always regain their financial footing. Their loss can be almost twice that of men and is often accompanied by a number of post-divorce surprises.

As you can probably see by now, that innocent question, How long does it take to get a divorce? doesn’t have a simple answer.

Some things you can control. Some things your spouse controls. And some (many) things your state’s laws control.

Remember that knowledge is power – or at least an analgesic to the inherent stress of getting a divorce

Remember also that the time it takes to jump through all the hoops of the divorce process says nothing about the time it takes to recover from a divorce.

But how you educate yourself, and the integrity and composure with which you navigate your divorce can influence everything, including your divorce recovery, the new chapter you deserve.

 

Notes

Since 2012, smart women around the world have chosen SAS for Women to partner with them through the emotional and often complicated experience of divorce. We invite you to learn what’s possible for you. Schedule your FREE 15-minute consultation with SAS. Whether you are dealing with divorce or are already navigating your life afterward, choose to acknowledge your vulnerability and learn from others. Choose not to go it alone.

 

Top reasons for divorce

Gender Nuances for the Top Reasons for Divorce in The U.S.

For all the statistical data that makes it seem textbook and predictable, divorce really is an organic reflection of many factors. Everything that influences social norms, economy, and current events, for example, ultimately influences marriage and divorce. That means both the rate and top reasons for divorce have contextual relevance.

Add in individual factors like age, gender, education, and socioeconomic status, and both marriage and divorce become dream topics for statisticians and psychologists alike.

Even social stigma sticks its nose into a very personal matter and influences things like the decision and timing of divorce. It can even influence the top reasons for divorce and how parting spouses heal and move on into other relationships.

How Age Affects Reasons for Divorce

It’s worth noting that millennials are both trend-breakers and trend-makers when it comes to marriage and divorce. Thanks in large part to this age group, both marriage and divorce rates are on the decline.

The reason?

Millennials are waiting a lot longer to get married, and they’re staying married longer.

Move up the age ladder to couples over 50, and the rate of divorce is twice that of couples in their 20s, 30s, and 40s. And many of their top reasons for divorce are unique to the circumstances of this life-transitioning age group.

Just when you think a couple is in the home stretch of their lifetime vows, factors like an empty nest, retirement, and emerging health issues take their toll.

If you’re so absorbed in the needs and wants of children and bosses that your marriage takes a back seat, retirement can be a daunting new reality.

(For more info about divorce for this special age group, read about gray divorce here.)

Spoiler alert: Every successive marriage after the first has a significantly higher risk of divorce.

What Vague Reasons for Divorce Might Actually Mean

When reading about the top reasons for divorce, a few things are worth keeping in mind.

Commonly listed reasons for divorce have a certain amount of interpretation embedded in them.

“Irreconcilable differences,” “lack of commitment,” “one partner not carrying his/her weight”—these are all pretty blanketing reasons (especially the first two).

Also, not every survey uses the same terminology.

Finally, especially in a no-fault or uncontested divorce, some couples may amicably sweep their issues under a closing statement of “irreconcilable differences.” “Drifting apart,” “incompatibility,” “irretrievable breakdown of the marriage”—there are various ways to not zero in on a specific fault.

The top reasons for divorce probably won’t surprise you. Here are 6 of the biggies:

  • infidelity
  • financial problems
  • chronic arguing/fighting
  • lack of intimacy
  • physical and/or emotional abuse
  • addiction or substance abuse

The top reasons for divorce become more interesting and relevant when considered in the context of gender, for example.

When you consider that women initiate divorce 69% of the time compared to men, surely you’ll be curious as to why. (You may actually not be surprised at all.)

Remember what we said about divorce being contextually relevant? Well, this is a perfect example of why.

Gender Roles in Marriage and Divorce

There was a time when women weren’t even “women” when they married. They were “girls” or, at best, just-out-of-high school teens. They went from their families of origin to creating families of their own.

And they donned their aprons, stayed home with the children, and had dinner on the table when their husbands came home.

Not all, of course. But women-in-the-workforce wasn’t always the norm.

Women-in-higher-education wasn’t always the norm, either.

But what happens when women get educated and earn their own money? They start expecting more for their lives and knowing they can have it, with or without a husband.

So, when it comes to initiating the divorce, women are often far down the road with their discontent compared to men. Their idea of “intolerable” often registers to their husbands as “What do you mean, you’re not happy?”

Women expect emotional connection, not just financial provision for a home and family. They have individual ambitions in addition to their family ambitions.

So it makes sense that women’s top reasons for divorce include:

  • lack of love, affection, and emotional availability
  • immaturity/marrying too young
  • different sexual needs
  • infidelity
  • inequality
  • control issues
  • lack of communication
  • emotional and/or physical abuse
  • substance abuse

Men’s needs and top reasons for divorce aren’t completely different, but their priority and “weight” are unique.

  • not feeling appreciated or respected
  • financial disagreements and differences in spending
  • infidelity
  • different sexual needs
  • no shared interests
  • feeling inadequate

Some issues have obvious overlap.

Infidelity, for example, is a tough issue for couples to overcome. (And yet, more than half survive it.)

But, in the same way that a heart attack is usually the culmination of several risk factors, infidelity rarely happens in a vacuum. There are other issues — many listed above—that motivate (but never justify) the straying. Check out our surprising article on the Cheating Wife Phenomenon.

Notice that feeling appreciated and respected is a top priority for men, while love and emotional connection are priorities for women.

For an interesting perspective on a very generalized theory about love, respect, and genders, read here.

Inequality in Marriage

Men also rank financial and spending differences as a major reason for divorce, especially if they are the primary breadwinners.

Today’s woman is far less willing to accept inequality between partners. On the contrary, she has very evolved ideas and high expectations of equality.

Unfortunately, men, in general, haven’t caught up to what that looks like, especially in terms of their responsibilities at home. Women are still assuming the majority of childrearing and housekeeping responsibilities, and they are quick to recognize the disparity.

Finally, differences in sexual needs are a top reason for divorce for both men and women. If couples don’t constantly work to communicate their needs and create a mutually satisfying approach to sex, the result can be erosive. Physical intimacy, after all, is what distinguishes marriage from a platonic relationship.

The top reasons for divorce in the USA reflect a host of variables. Some are unique to the individuals and couples themselves. And some are influenced by societal trends and shifting priorities and accepted ways of life.

What matters, in the long run, is that, if divorce is the only viable and just solution to your differences, you embark on the journey with eyes wide open.

 

Notes

SAS women are those amazing ladies you meet who are entirely committed to rebuilding their lives on their own, healthiest terms. 

If you are thinking about … dealing with … or recreating after divorce, you have specific needs you must attend to in order to advance your recovery. We invite you to learn more about supporting yourself and schedule your FREE 15-minute consultation with SAS for Women. Whether or not you work further with us, we’ll help you understand your next, black-and-white steps for walking into your brave unknown—with compassion and integrity.

Divorce decree and Divorce certificate

What’s the Difference Between a Divorce Decree and a Divorce Certificate?

Legal terms and documentation concerning divorce can often be confusing, especially for people going through the emotional charges of a divorce and its trying legal process. Understanding the difference between a divorce decree and divorce certificate is just one of the many important details you may find yourself sorting through.

In 2019, there were more than 750,000 divorces and annulments in the United States. That means a lot of people changed their marital status, and to do so, they had to undergo various marriage dissolutions or disbanding complications.

Today, we will focus on two often mistakenly interchangeable terms—a divorce decree (also called “final decree/judgment”) and a divorce certificate.

And yes, these are two entirely different documents. So, without further ado, let’s find out how to distinguish one from the other.

What is a Divorce Decree?

Here’s a simple divorce decree definition: it is a document that officially ends a marriage and has provisions concerning the duties and responsibilities of each party after divorce. In addition, a decree can incorporate a settlement agreement if the couple agrees on all terms between themselves.

These terms include financial obligations (e.g., alimony and child support), custodial rights, property division, etc. The spouses and the judge must sign this decree.

Several states have a mandatory waiting period before the issuing of a final judgment. For example, in New York, divorces are granted no sooner than 60 days after the petition is filed. However, the waiting period can also be waived in certain circumstances.

The signed decree should be filed with the clerk’s office when both spouses, often in the presence of their lawyers, have agreed on and signed the settlement agreement. It can also happen after the final hearing is over—if there was a hearing. The signed decree is essential because the case is not finalized until the clerk at the court receives, records and stamps this signed document.

Is a Divorce Decree the Same as a Judgment of Divorce?

Yes, the divorce decree, the final decree of divorce, and the final judgment of divorce are different names for the same document. So, for example, in California, the spouses will receive the “Judgment,” in New York State, it will be called “Judgment of Divorce,” and “Final Decree of Divorce” in Texas.

On rare occasions, you can stumble onto the name “divorce sentence document,” which has become obsolete and is rarely used in connection to divorce in the U.S. As you see, there can be several alterations of the same title.

What Does a Divorce Decree Look Like?

A divorce decree is a several-page long document. The title page begins with the case (or cause) number, the name and address of the court that handles the case, and the full names of both spouses.

Below goes the name of the document, usually in large bold letters. The title will most likely have the words “decree” or “judgment.”

Although the form of this document is different in each state, the content is more or less the same.

Essential Parts of a Divorce Decree

  1. Information about the plaintiff and the defendant: full name, address, phone number, social security number, employer’s address, etc.
  2. Jurisdiction. Basically, the court states that it has the power to enter judgment concerning the marriage dissolution based on the residency of the parties.
  3. Information about children. The names, social security numbers, ages, and addresses of all children (natural or adopted) under 18 years old or those older than 18 attending high school at the moment of filing for divorce.
  4. Conservatorship matters. This section is especially long. It addresses the issues of the conservatorship type (sole or joint), the visitation schedule, each parent’s essential duties, and responsibilities, etc.
  5. Child support: who will pay child support and who will receive it, how much it will be, who will pay for medical and dental costs and insurance, etc.
  6. Property Division. This chapter determines each party’s separate property (belonging to only one spouse) and marital property. For example, it can be anything from real estate and vehicles to furniture and wedding bands. The decree also includes the orders on how to split the assets and debts between the parties. (See What is a Divorce Financial Settlement?)
  7. Spousal support. This section determines who will pay it, in what amount, and for how long.
  8. Name change. The spouses can ask to change their names back to their maiden names in this section.
  9. Court costs. This part states that the party that incurred the costs is responsible for paying them unless they requested a waiver and the court approved it.

How Many Pages is a Divorce Decree?

The more complex the situation between the spouses, the more pages and information a divorce decree will have. For example, judgments concerning simple marriage dissolutions may consist of 3-8 pages. But some cases require a decree of up to 25 pages.

An average divorce decree form has 8-15 parts (sometimes even more) that the spouses fill out (with or without the help of their lawyers or a mediator) if their case is uncontested.

And that is one of the tell-tale differences between the decree and the certificate. The former has more pages and content, while the latter typically comes printed on one page.

What is a Certified Divorce Decree Copy?

The marriage dissolution process ends with the court’s review of the signed divorce decree, or when the court hearings are over, all the documents are signed, and the divorce decree is filed with the court clerk. Once it is entered into the system, the clerk’s office where the initial papers were filed can provide the ex-spouses with a certified copy of the final judgment.

Basically, a certified copy of a divorce decree is a paper copy of the original document signed by the notary or person holding it. The clerk will probably charge a specific fee for the verified copy (approximately $10-$15).

In some states, a copy of the decree can be ordered online. Yet, most of them require that it be collected in person.

SAS Tip: Once divorced, we recommend you contact your courthouse or via online arrange to receive 3-5 copies of your notarized divorce decree. You may need a notarized version for official dealings in your future (like reverting to your maiden name) and you will not want to lose control of your original notarized version.

Sometimes, a person needs to present a copy of the decree to another court, e.g., for resolving child-related matters. In this case, they would need an exemplified copy of their judgment.

Exemplification of a divorce decree is a similar procedure to the certification. The difference is that a certified copy is signed by the clerk only, while the exemplified one is signed by both the clerk and the judge.

What is a Divorce Certificate?

A certificate of divorce is a document providing basic information about the divorced couple that states the fact the marriage ended.

What does a divorce certificate look like? It usually consists of one page and has the full names of the parties, date, time, and place of divorce. Sometimes, it also includes the place and date of where the now-dissolved marriage was entered.

The court does not issue a divorce certificate. Instead, it comes from the State Department of Health or similar institutions, such as the Vital Records Department. These institutions often allow ordering the certificate online after the case is final. Either spouse can access this document upon providing a driver’s license, ID card, or other photo-ID forms.

When Would You Need a Divorce Certificate?

A divorce certificate serves as proof of the divorce. It serves the following purposes:

  • Name change;
  • Remarriage;
  • Obtaining a visa or passport;
  • Insurance and retirement matters;
  • Getting driver’s licenses, etc.

Usually, there are no confidential details of a divorce order in this certificate. For this reason, many people choose to show this document instead of the decree as proof of their marital status.

Let’s sum up the above information.

1. Divorce Decree vs. Divorce Certificate

There’s no such thing as a divorce decree certificate. A divorce decree and a certificate are two separate documents. A divorce decree usually consists of several pages. It contains all the marriage dissolution terms, such as property division and child custody arrangements.

Conversely, the primary purpose of a divorce certificate is to prove the fact the marriage ended. It is printed on a single page and only contains the names of the parties and the date and place of divorce.

2. Judgment of Divorce vs. Divorce Decree

The divorce decree has the same meaning as the judgment of divorce. In essence, these are different names for the same document. Legally speaking, a judgment (decree) is a written court order stating that the spouses are divorced.

After the spouses and the judge signs this order, it must be filed with the clerk, who will enter it into the system. Until then, the marriage dissolution is not final.

 

Notes

Jamie Kurtz is a divorce lawyer and a member of the LA County Bar Association and the State Bar of California. She’s a co-founder of a law firm dealing with uncontested divorces and a contributing writer for OnlineDivorce.com, an online divorce papers preparation service.

Since 2012 smart women around the world have chosen SAS for Women to partner them through the emotional and oftentimes complicated experience of divorce. We invite you to learn what’s possible for you. Schedule your FREE, 15-minute consultation with SAS. Whether you are thinking about it or actively dealing with divorce, choose to acknowledge your vulnerability and learn from others. Choose to not go it alone.

File for Divorce - What it Takes

What Does It Take to File for Divorce?

Perhaps you want it, but he doesn’t. Perhaps he wants it, but you don’t. Perhaps you both want it. No matter who comes to the conclusion that divorce is the unfortunate destiny for your marriage, one of you has to file for divorce.

It’s understandable that the process of initiating the legal end to your marriage would be an emotional step. And no one wants to voluntarily take on that negativity, especially if the other person isn’t aware of or in agreement with the divorce.

This initial step, however, must be taken if the process is going to move forward.

There may be no badge of honor, favoritism, or disproportionate rights granted to the petitioner. But there may be advantages to being the one to file for divorce.

Filing is the official notification to the courts to begin the divorce process.

The person who files, called the “petitioner,” files a petition (or “complaint” in some states) with the court.

(Note that “the court” isn’t just “any court.” Like most family law matters, divorce is handled at the state government level. Petitions for divorce are therefore filed with the state superior or circuit court, usually a county or district branch.)

If you plan to file for divorce, there are things you should do beforehand.

How to Prepare to File for Divorce

You have the advantage during this time of getting educated about your strategy for going through the divorce and assembling your team for support.

Researching and seeking legal counsel, for example, is one of the most important initial steps you should take. And “going first” means you get “first pick” of the best local representation if you choose to use a lawyer to represent you.

Also, the time to understand your rights and get your concerns answered is before you start the clock.

A divorce coach can help you navigate both the practical and emotional ins-and-outs of divorce. And s/he can also give you access to perspective, what is normal, what is not, and a wealth of essential, well-vetted resources like good lawyers, good financial people, recommended mediators, etc.

If you know you are going to be the one to initiate divorce, you also have the advantage of beginning your due diligence early.

We can’t stress this enough: Documentation is everything. Prepare, prepare, prepare! 

Even your petition for divorce will require documentation related to your marriage and finances:

  • Names and addresses of both spouses
  • Date and location of the marriage
  • Identification of children of the marriage
  • Acknowledgment of residency

Every state has its own residency requirements (state and/or county) for one or both spouses prior to filing.

  • Grounds for divorce

You may have at-fault grounds like adultery, abandonment, addiction, criminal conviction, impotence, infertility, mental illness, or physical or emotional abuse.

Or you may have no-fault grounds like irreconcilable differences or incompatibility.

Your grounds for divorce may influence whether your divorce is uncontested or contested. (At-fault and no-fault grounds are decided by each state.)

  • Declaration or request as to how you would like to settle finances, property division, child custody, and other relevant issues.

Once you file for divorce with the court, the petition for divorce must be served to your spouse.

This step is called “service of process.” And it can be as simple as a compliant spouse signing acknowledgment of receipt.

It can also be as difficult as your spouse refusing to sign or being difficult to locate. You would then most likely need to hire a professional process server.

Upon completion of service of process, the clock starts running on your state’s waiting period. This is also the point at which the court will basically “freeze” activity that could affect your settlement and/or custody.

Important Details About The Service of Process

There are some important things to know about what happens after completing your service of process. Neither you nor your spouse will be allowed to take your children out of state, for example. You also won’t be allowed to buy or sell property or sell off insurance related to the other person.

Knowing that these restraining orders will be in place, you may be advised to request temporary orders in your petition.

Perhaps you are a stay-at-home mom with young children, and you rely on your spouse’s income.

Even an uncontested divorce can take a year to finalize. And you can’t live without the means to provide for yourself and your children.

Temporary orders would provide for things like temporary custody, child support, spousal support, residential arrangements, and payment of bills.

By now you’re probably catching on to how being the first to file for divorce can be advantageous.

No, we’re not suggesting in any way that you rush into a life-altering decision just so you can “be first.”

What we are suggesting is that the outcome of your divorce will be largely predicated on your preparation.

Best-case scenario? Both you and your spouse know that your lives are best lived apart. You might work cooperatively to make your divorce as smooth and painless as possible.

Honesty, disclosure, respect, and fairness will guide your dealings.

Worst-case scenario? You file for divorce, and your spouse does everything in his power to fight it.

He doesn’t want the divorce, but he’s not happy with your marriage, either. He is hell-bent on making you pay for initiating the divorce. And he’s not above breaking the rules to do it.

Hiding assets, contesting everything, and trying to leave you with nothing will guide his dealings.

Misery will guide yours.

Preparation is Key

When you have time before filing for divorce, you can prepare your questions, collect your advisors, and do your due diligence. And that due diligence will empower you with much more control in the proceedings, especially if your spouse is uncooperative.

Finding, copying, and organizing everything is essential. Your stuff, your husband’s stuff, your mutual stuff, your kids’ stuff.

When it comes to financial matters, these are the documents you should have and the way you should organize them.

Finally, while being the first to file for divorce won’t give you an edge on your settlement, it can make some things easier.

If you and your husband reside in different states part of the time, initiating the divorce will allow you to decide the location of adjudication. And where a divorce takes place has everything to do with how it proceeds…and turns out.

Waiting periods, residency requirements, fault/no-fault grounds, and even certain financial considerations will be at the mercy of location.

In the short run, all it takes to file for divorce is the decision to go forward with ending a marriage that isn’t working.

Do the paperwork, serve your spouse, and provide proof that he was served.

As the respondent, he is free to send a response of agreement or contest. But the clock starts nonetheless.

In the long run, however, approaching the first official step of your divorce process with forethought and preparation can dramatically influence the outcome.

The road to an empowered life, after all, begins with the first step.

Notes

SAS women are those amazing ladies you meet who are entirely committed to rebuilding their lives on their own, healthiest terms. 

Whether you are navigating the experience of divorce, or that confusing place of recreating the life you deserve, one thing we see making a significant difference for women is the conscious choice to not do it alone. Since 2012, smart women around the world have chosen SAS for Women to partner them through the emotional, financial, and often times complicated experience of divorce and reinvention. “A healthy divorce requires smart steps through and beyond the divorce document.” Learn what we mean and what it means for you in a FREE 15-minute consultation.

Hiring a Mediation attorney

Hiring a Mediation Attorney Can Save You Money in Divorce

It’s a common divorce fear: you will end up in court, and your lawyer will argue endlessly while the meter on legal fees will spin out of control. With each passing second, you’ll be losing money and seemingly, losing control of your life. Even now, imagining this scenario may activate your stress hormones.

Mediation offers a workaround that fear by allowing you to settle the terms of your divorce without the risk of court, thus saving you—potentially—tremendous amounts of money. This may sound great to you: divorce without lawyers? Sign you up!

However, I’m here to tell you that even in mediation you still need a lawyer. The difference is that you’re going to use that lawyer in a more focused way—one that is catered to the specific advice and guidance you need in the moment you prepare and go through the mediation process.

Why You Need a Mediation Attorney

Divorce mediation may be the most important negotiation process you ever engage in. The results will affect your life for years to come.

A mediation attorney protects your rights and can help you achieve your goals through the mediation process in divorce. Even if your mediator is an attorney, the mediator is committed to remaining neutral. The mediator cannot give you specific legal advice. However, if you consult with your own, private mediation attorney, you gain an advocate who remains focused on your specific, best interests.


Getting Divorced? If the divorce is happening, one way or another, you will want to read more about your choices and what to be prepared for.


Consulting with a mediation attorney before, during, and after mediation sessions, if necessary, makes you better prepared and more confident as you approach the different issues in your divorce. Plus, a mediation attorney can make sure you understand the impact your choices will have so you can realistically evaluate options before you agree to terms. This is critical work and support for you, especially if you are a woman.

Minimizing Negotiations in a Beneficial Way

If both you and your soon-to-be Ex each work with your own individual mediation attorneys, you may save money and avoid wasting time as a couple. Far too often, couples spend months negotiating agreements without legal advice, and then when one of them finally consults an attorney privately, they start to question the terms of those agreements. This can lead to a whole new round of negotiations. If, instead, each of you has the advice of a “mediation friendly” attorney from the start, the entire flow of the mediation process is much more productive and efficient.

In fact, research reported by the American Psychological Association shows that divorcing couples who participate in mediation are far more satisfied with the process and the outcome than couples who litigate their divorce.

A Mediation Attorney Can Protect Your Priorities as a Woman

You can’t get the things you want most until you’re certain what those things are.

Clarifying your goals can be a challenging process and not one that is necessarily intuitive. A mediation attorney will help you define and prioritize your objectives. S/he will help you consider things you may not have thought of. Then, together, you can develop a plan to reach your most critical goals.

For example, if keeping your home is important to you, your mediation consulting attorney might help you brainstorm ideas for how to give your soon-to-be Ex something that is important to him or her so that you each feel you are reaching an equitable agreement. Or, if you are trying to work out a parenting plan and there is disagreement about what schedule is in the best interests of the children, your mediation attorney will help you think through different schedules. She or he will also help you effectively advocate for yourself regarding what you think will be best for your children.

Mediation Leads to a Legally Binding Agreement

Yes, the mediation process is a more informal process than litigation. But make no mistake—when you agree to terms to resolve your divorce through mediation, you sign an agreement that is as legally binding as a judge’s ruling in court. You need to take the process very seriously. If you do not understand your legal rights, you could unintentionally forfeit those rights or agree to terms that are adverse to your own best interests.

You may choose to give up rights in exchange for something else of value. However, you cannot make an informed choice until you understand what is at stake.

An experienced mediation attorney can help you understand the ramifications of each option you may be considering. It is essential that you review proposals in detail with your mediation lawyer before signing anything so that you fully understand your rights and obligations and their long-term implications and impact. Guidance from a mediation attorney can help you feel confident that you will emerge from the divorce in a strong position and ready to move forward with your life.

A Mediation Attorney Will Always Have Your Back

For many people, divorce through the mediation process is not as scary as a divorce handled through lawyers. But it can still induce anxiety. While you want to be respectful of your soon-to-be-Ex during the process, you need to take steps to preserve your own well-being, both emotionally and financially.

It is wise therefore to approach the mediation process thoughtfully. Working with a knowledgeable mediation attorney early on can help you get the most from the process and make sure you are educated upfront before you start negotiating in the mediation room. Ideally, your mediation attorney will help you advocate on your own behalf while still working toward a resolution that allows you and your soon-to-be Ex to come away satisfied. A “mediation friendly” attorney will respect the non-adversarial nature of the mediation process while still helping you achieve positive outcomes that meet your unique needs.

If you and your spouse decide on mediation as the way you will divorce, factor in your healthy and strategic move to consult privately with a mediation attorney, and know that many divorce attorneys can serve this role for you these days. They may call themselves mediation attorneys or mediation lawyers or mediation consulting attorneys, but their role is to support you—to make sure your mediated agreement with your spouse respects you and your needs for the long term.

Notes

Andrea Vacca, Esq. is the founder of Vacca Family Law Group, which works exclusively with couples who want to resolve their divorce and other family law-related issues through mediation, collaborative divorce, and negotiated agreements outside of the court system. She is the Immediate Past President of the New York Association of Collaborative Professionals and a member of various organizations focused on collaborative divorce and mediation. Whether working with clients ending a relationship or those who are trying to prevent problems in a current relationship, she strives to help her clients achieve their goals with minimal conflict. She can be reached through her website https://www.vaccalaw.com/contact-us/

 

Since 2012, smart women around the world have chosen SAS for Women to partner with them through the emotional and often complicated experience of divorce. We invite you to learn what’s possible for you. Schedule your FREE 15-minute consultation with SAS. Whether you are coping with divorce or are already navigating your life afterward, choose to acknowledge your vulnerability and learn from others. Choose not to go it alone.

Cheap Divorce Lawyers

Why You Don’t Want to Search for Cheap Divorce Lawyers

Cheap can be costly. And, when it comes to divorce, cheap divorce lawyers can ultimately drain your accounts—financially and emotionally. The temptation to team up with touted cost-cutters is understandable. But learn the risks and costs before throwing your trust (and future) into the bargain basket.

Even in the most amicable situations, the divorce process can make you feel as if you’re hanging onto a cliff’s edge by your fingernails. There are so many details to consider, with so many time-sensitive must-do’s. And, there are so many things with future relevance for parting spouses and their children.

When you start adding it all up, it’s inevitable that you’ll ask: How much will my divorce cost me, financially and emotionally? 

So why wouldn’t you strive to save wherever and whenever you can? After all, if you don’t send a lawyer’s kids to college, you might be able to send your own kids to college.

Enter that internet know-it-all, Google. A quick search for “cheap divorce lawyers” ought to get this show on the road and save you bundles, right?

(You might even be lucky enough to know someone whose next-door neighbor has a friend whose cousin is a lawyer… kind of.)

Don’t get us wrong. Frugality has its place, especially when employed with conscientious research and self-discipline.It goes “deeper than cheaper” and assumes an underlying prudence in decision-making.

Cheap, however, carries an implied reference not only to price, but to quality.

And cheap divorce lawyers are no exception.

Let’s consider some of the most important qualities of a good lawyer… and how they differ from the cheap ones.

 

  • Good lawyers are respected within their profession, even by competitors.

They are respected for their knowledge and skill… and especially for their integrity. They would never disrespect the law, let alone encourage you to lie or withhold required information.

  • Good lawyers are transparent with their clients.

They don’t bury costs, fees, and terms beneath undisclosed jargon and code. Because they act with integrity, they want their clients to know “what and why” when it comes to actions taken and the costs associated.

  • Good lawyers advocate for you.

They give you the assurance, by their actions, that you are in good hands. They will go to bat for you and not cut corners when your future is at stake. Most importantly, they will also listen to you.

  • Good lawyers care about you and the outcome of your case.

They are vested in your case. They want you to succeed, not just as a source of their paycheck, but for your future well-being.

  • Good lawyers know how to handle complicated cases. 

They have a thorough understanding of the law and years of experience applying it. They know how to resource information that can resolve even the most intricate matters. In other words, they know how to get things done.

Cheap divorce lawyers, on the other hand, are cheap in part because they can handle only simple cases.

  • Good lawyers are accessible.

They respond to your phone calls and outreach in a clear and timely way. They also keep you abreast of any updates in your case.

Cheap lawyers take on a lot of clients to make as much money as possible. This means they don’t return your calls, they don’t remember your story when you are talking with them, and they’re not prepared when they speak with you… or the judge. And before getting to court, they often don’t educate you on what your choices really are, because they want to be finished with you as soon as possible. Next!

  • Good lawyers keep you on track and on time.

Divorce, in a very pragmatic sense, is a process of checking off a long list of requirements.

It’s also a process of meeting deadlines and staying on time.

A good lawyer will keep your case on time and you informed of all that is required of you.

Cheap divorce lawyers, on the other hand, aren’t always motivated to look after your timeline.

And what does that mean for you? You guessed it. Fees, penalties, and more money out of your pocket.

It also won’t make you fare well in the eyes of the court if you aren’t organized and punctual.

So where does this leave you when money is an issue, but quality is critical?

You actually have a number of options, most of which will depend on the ability of you and your soon-to-be-Ex to cooperate.

We always encourage our readers and clients to handle as much of their divorce as possible without litigation.

This means understanding, first and foremost, the difference between an uncontested and contested divorce. Every bit of contention in your divorce will come with a price tag and a protracted timeline.

If you and your soon-to-be-Ex are agreeable and amicable in your communication, you may be good candidates for mediation. But before choosing mediation or which method you’ll use to divorce, we strongly urge you to have a private, educational consultation with a reputable divorce attorney. We want you educated on what your rights are and what you are entitled to as a woman BEFORE you go to the mediation table and start making decisions dividing things up.

For this initial consult, here are the best questions to ask a divorce attorney to get you started.

After that meeting you can think about your husband’s personality and what model of divorce might be right for both of you (DIY, mediation, collaborative divorce, traditional approach, or litigation.)


Or get fully educated first.

Consider joining us for Annie’s Group, where it’s safe to learn what is possible for your life, legally, emotionally, financially, and practically, before you jump or make any big decisions.

 


Why is mediation often a good model after you’ve been educated privately as a woman?

Because it’s an “interest-based” approach to divorce as opposed to a retribution-based approach.

You are both coming to the table with your current and future needs and interests. And, if you have children, you are looking out for their well-being, both now and in the future.

Mediation is a favorable way to keep your divorce out of the courts. And the best part is that, instead of a judge deciding your settlement, you (and your STB ex) do.

But what if we agree on some things but not others? You may wonder. Believe it or not, you can actually use mediation for parts of your divorce and legal representation for the rest.

Even if you choose to use mediation for the entire process, you can still retain legal counsel for guidance before and review during. (And here is another distinction between good and cheap divorce lawyers: An attorney worth your consideration will not be threatened by your choice to use or incorporate mediation.)

Here is an essential guide for preparing for divorce mediation.

Another non-litigated approach is a collaborative divorce. Both mediation and collaboration have their pros and cons especially as relates to women advocating for themselves. So do your research and be honest about what is likely to be most workable for both of you and your circumstances.

You also have the choice to do a DIY divorce, utilizing resources online. If you choose to consider that approach, know that DIY is really best for short-term marriages, or marriages where there are not any children, little or no debt, and few if any assets.

What’s the big message here?

Your divorce, as awkward as this sounds, is an investment in your future. It’s also an investment in your children’s futures.

What you choose, how you choose, and why you choose what you do carries a lot of weight.

As difficult as it may be to lead with a business mind and not emotions, doing so is critical to your success.

Divorce cuts deeply into your life, emotions, and self-esteem, even when it’s not an “ugly divorce.” It unearths inevitable questions, doubts, regrets, and fears.

The way in which you navigate your divorce will be a statement of value that you make about yourself and your life. It will also forge a lasting memory and influence for your kids.

And no value statement is louder or clearer than the people you draw into your circle.

Money-conscious? Smart woman.

Cheap? Never.

Notes

SAS women are those amazing ladies you meet who are entirely committed to rebuilding their lives on their own, healthiest terms. If you are recreating after divorce or separation, you are invited to experience SAS for Women firsthand. Schedule your FREE 15-minute consultation. Whether or not you work further with us, we’ll help you understand your next, black-and-white steps for walking into your brave unknown — with compassion, integrity, and excitement.

 

breadwinning women and divorce

Breadwinning Women Face an Uphill Battle When Married and When Divorcing

A recent University of Chicago study* found that marriages with breadwinning women are 50% more likely to end in divorce. Surprised? Women who earn more than their husbands are not! Let me tell you why.

Breadwinning Moms Do Not Get Equality at Home

There is still widespread practice of women taking on more of the family caretaking and household chores. This custom has not gone away even with the advancements women have made toward gender equality in other areas of our life, such as career and education.

According to The Atlantic, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found that “married American mothers spend almost twice as much time on housework and childcare than do married fathers.” Moms spend even more hours each day on childcare today than did mothers in the 1960s. Now consider that women are also much more likely to be working than in past decades. Has marriage equality actually back-pedaled over the last 60 years?

Even more shocking, a recent study by the Journal of Family Issues found a traceable connection between income and hours spent doing housework. The more a wife out-earns her husband, the less he does at home.

The European Social Survey found that the men who do the very least to support their family in and outside the house are unemployed husbands.

You cannot make this stuff up! No one would believe it—except breadwinning women and the researchers who studied this issue. In other words, women’s career and financial success are penalized at home.

The More She Makes, the More Likely He is to Cheat 

There is another important issue for women who support their family financially—their husbands are much more likely to cheat. Funny enough, this proclivity for cheating is not seen in breadwinning women. Maybe our commitment to our spouse is enhanced by our lack of energy after working 12-hour days at the office and taking care of the kids. Perhaps few can muster the energy to have an affair. Some women have shared with me in confidence that while they are not happy in their marriage, they also do not feel they have enough time to get divorced!

Many high-earning women do not feel supported, which can lead to tension, fighting, and ultimately, divorce. According to the Huffington Post, “one study by the National Bureau of Economic Research shows that marriages with breadwinning wives are often ‘less satisfying’ and more likely to end in divorce.”

More and More Women Are Making the Money

This situation does not only affect women. We are seeing more and more women balancing supporting their families, financially, while managing childcare, dinner prep, doctor’s appointments, and more.

About 29 percent (nearly one in three) of married women in the United States make more than their husbands, and it’s a group that is steadily growing.

In addition, women continue to surpass the number of men in obtaining college degrees. As a result, many of us are flocking toward typically male-dominated fields such as medicine, technology, and finance.

Financial Consideration for Women Who Make More

There are several unique economic issues that the female primary breadwinner should bear in mind when considering a legal separation or divorce. Laws are in place to protect the lesser-earning spouse during a divorce so that they are provided for, financially, once the marriage is over. These laws pertain to both sexes. However, paying child support or alimony is a tough pill to swallow for women who bore most of the responsibility of raising their children, managing the house, and toiling in a demanding career – a very different situation from that of most divorcing men in a bread-earning role. It is understandable why many women resent paying alimony when their spouse has not done equal time in the house with domestic chores.

Splitting Assets Is Not Straightforward

Equitable distribution, which is the dividing up of marital assets, has implications for breadwinning women, as well. Money earned during the marriage by either spouse is subject to division regardless of who earned it. However, the law presumes that each person made equal sacrifices and played a vital role in the marriage and, as a result, deserves to partake in the earnings and assets accumulated during the marriage.

This is another area fraught with controversy. Some matrimonial lawyers argue that the asset split awarded to their husbands should be less than 50/ 50. They point to their more significant role in the marriage’s success at home and in the workforce. Unfortunately, these situations are ripe for litigation in a “he said, she said” battle for who held the lion’s share of responsibilities at home and at work. Legal bills may accumulate at astonishing rates as arguments escalate. She can also find herself picking up the tab for her husband’s lawyer’s hourly charges, which is like pouring salt on an open wound.

Don’t Give It All Away

Against our advice, some women are willing to give a larger asset split to their husbands to make them go away, stem the cost of the divorce, and move on. One of our clients admitted, “I don’t have time to deal with him. I work a million hours as a marketing executive at a technology company, and I also have custody of the kids. Really, I would rather just give him what he wants and move on with my life. I just put myself forward for a promotion to take on a bigger role at work because I need to make up for everything that I have lost from my retirement. I also have 8 more years of spousal support payments in front of me.”


Learn more about getting healthily and smartly educated about divorce or separation if you are a woman…


Know What You’re Worth

Just because she makes more does not necessarily mean that the wife controls the finances. Some women are so busy making money that all the bill paying, investing, and financial decision making is left to her husband. This situation can put her behind the eight ball when it comes to a divorce. Not knowing the complete picture of the family’s financial situation can make her even more vulnerable during negotiations about how money should be divvied up post-divorce. Understanding the growth potential and tax impact of each asset is key, as well as the family’s lifestyle costs.

Parting Words…

There is little that is straightforward in a divorce when a woman makes more. While there is some case law that pertains to female breadwinning divorces, this is a relatively recent societal shift. While divorce is not easy for anyone, women who earn more need to plan their divorce thoughtfully and hire a team that works frequently with women in this situation. Breadwinning women have unique financial issues, and the financial stakes are high.

 

Notes

Stacy Francis, CFP®, CDFA®, CES™ is the President and CEO of Francis Financial, a fee-only boutique wealth management, financial planning, and divorce financial planning firm dedicated to providing ongoing comprehensive advice for women in transition such as divorce or widowhood. She is a Certified Financial Planner™ (CFP®), Certified Divorce Financial Analyst® (CDFA®), and Certified Estate and Trust Specialist (CES™) with over 20 years of experience in the financial industry. Stacy is also the founder of the non-profit, Savvy Ladies™. 

If you need financial planning and wealth management guidance, feel free to reach out to us to schedule your complimentary consultation. You can view our website at www.francisfinancial.com.

 

Since 2012, SAS for Women has helped women face the unexpected challenges that arise while considering a divorce and navigating the divorce experience and its confusing afterward. SAS offers women six FREE months of email coaching, action plans, checklists, and support strategies for you, and your future. Join our tribe and stay connected.

 

* Read the University of Chicago Study here.