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How to divorce a missing spouse

How to Divorce a Missing Spouse

Marriage doesn’t always work out.

Feelings fade away, interests don’t align, and couples drift apart from each other. Sometimes both you and your husband* want nothing more than to be miles apart—you’re no longer bothering to “keep tabs” on each other anymore! But marriage isn’t something you can really walk away from and forget about. There’s a legal weight to the words “I do” and “till death do us part.”

Even if you get married on a whim in Vegas, with Elvis presiding over your marriage, that contract is as real as it gets. And here lies the rub: if you fall in love with someone else and want to get married again, you need to get a divorce first.

But what if you and your husband drifted so far apart from each other, you don’t actually know where he is? Because, yes, marriage might not always work out, but surely your divorce won’t either when step number one is figuring out exactly how to divorce a missing spouse. Luckily, that’s not the case. Women who find themselves in this position have options.

Missing in action

If your not-so-significant other is M.I.A and you’ve lost track of where he’s living, do not fret. There are a few more legal steps you need to take, but you can still get a divorce. Your husband’s absence doesn’t mean you have to stay married to him forever.

That would be just plain unfair, but the good news is that each state has laws about how to divorce a missing spouse. A central part of this process is taking out an ad and publishing a notice of the divorce in the local newspaper. Before starting the publication process, however, there are a few steps you need to take as required by the state you’re in. Let’s take a look.

Leave no stone unturned

The first order of business is to conduct an exhaustive search for your missing husband. Most states require a “diligent effort” search, so if you’ve heard the term “due diligence” before, it applies in this situation. What this all means is that you have taken all the necessary steps in trying to locate your husband.

Here are some of the steps in the due diligence search process:

  • You must ask the sheriff to try and serve your husband at his last known address (in some states).
  • Use the internet, email, social media and other networking sites to try and track down your husband. Besides, you can try search people online tools to find out new registered information about your spouse.
  • Get in touch with the DMV for his latest registration information.
  • Check with the post office and voter registration.
  • Contact your husband’s known family to find birth parents, friends, and office mates, as well as previous employers.
  • Try calling his last known phone number.

If you don’t want to do all this (no time, emotional distress), don’t worry. You can always hire an attorney or private investigator to act on your behalf. Hiring a professional is actually a great idea because they can conduct a more thorough search than you can.

Get court approval to publish

After conducting a due diligence search and exhausting all possible ways to find your missing husband, it’s time to go to court. Take the results of your search, present it to the court, and ask for permission to serve your husband by publication. Depending on what state you’re in, the process usually involves filing a motion with the court together with an affidavit.

An affidavit is a sworn statement detailing your efforts to search for your husband. The judge will review your testimony once you file your papers with the court. If the judge approves your due diligence, they will issue an order for publication.

It’s publishing time

After getting your order for publication, read the instructions carefully. The rules for “service by publication” vary for each state. For instance, in New York, the newspaper must serve the last known address of your husband. Most states require that you run the notice once a week for three straight weeks in the county where you filed the divorce.

Most jurisdictions give you 30 days to publish your notice after receiving your order, and some require you to post a note at the courthouse. Look for the newspaper’s legal notice department and show them your order and a copy of all divorce documents. The legal staff will help you craft an appropriate notice based on the judge’s instructions.

The divorce process

The newspaper will give you an affidavit that confirms they published your notice. You must notify the court that you’ve run the announcement and file the affidavit immediately. Note that there will be a waiting period of up to 30 days before you can go ahead with your divorce. This gives your husband time to respond and provide notice to the court.

If your husband doesn’t respond after the required waiting period, you can ask the court to give you a divorce by default. Some states cannot rule monetary issues such as child support or property division when you get a divorce via a missing spouse. If that’s the case for you, you’ll get a divorce, but some problems will likely remain unresolved.

Figuring out how to divorce a missing spouse seems daunting at first, but like most things, it can be tackled one step at a time. The route to getting divorce may be a little longer than usual, yes, but you’ll soon be sipping margaritas on the beach with some girlfriends or your new love once all the legalities are over and done with.

Ben Hartwig is a Digital Overlord at InfoTracer who takes a wide view on the whole system. He authors guides on entire security posture, both physical and cyber. He enjoys sharing best practices and does it the right way!

Whether you are considering a divorce or already navigating the confusing experience, one thing we see making a significant difference for women is the conscious choice to not do divorce alone. Since 2012, smart women around the world have chosen SAS for Women to support them through the emotional, financial, and oft times complicated experience of divorce.

SAS offers women 6 FREE months of email coaching, action plans, checklists and support strategies for you, your family, and your future. “A successful divorce requires smart steps, taken one at a time.” – SAS for Women 

*At SAS for Women, we respect same-sex marriages, however, for the sake of simplicity in this article we refer to your spouse as a male.

divorce process

The Divorce Process: What You Must Know as a Woman

We work with smart women, and because you’re here, we know you’re one of us. During the divorce process, we also know that sometimes, smart women believe they can outthink their pain, outlogic it. If their pain were a landmark on a map, a deep river splitting the ground in two, they’d lose whole days planning a route around it. But with divorce, the river is never ending, and the only way to get around it is to jump in and swim through.

If you’ve gone through a particularly bad breakup before, it’s easy to underestimate just how difficult the divorce process can be. It’s not just the emotional upheaval it brings to your life—for you may “get over” being married quickly. You may even move on to other romantic partners or physically reside in different homes, but none of this changes the fact that your union, your relationship, is legally recognized, something that may differ from relationships in your past. Your marriage isn’t truly over until the courts say it is.

These two sides to the divorce process, the emotional and the legal, require different things of you.

You’re on a journey, but this journey may sometimes feel like it’s pulling you in different directions, asking you at times to bury your emotions and focus on the practical and then demanding that you confront your demons so you can exorcise them.

Knowing when, where, and how to handle the myriad pieces of this divorce process is half the battle. Below is the easy-to-digest breakdown of the divorce process. As you read about and, even, journey through, keep in mind you don’t have to have all the answers—only some of them. Divorce professionals, the right kind of friends, constructive support groups, and family can help you get through the rest.

Decide what you really want

And that word really is important. We’re not talking about figuring out what you used to want. Or what you kind of want. Or even what you think other people want you to want.

We’re asking what you really want. Getting that honest with yourself can be absolutely terrifying because acting on whatever your truth is might mean tearing your world apart and putting it back together.

If you want a career that your husband doesn’t support, then for you each to be happy, you may have to leave him. If you want a lifestyle your husband doesn’t buy into, then you might have to leave him. If you want a marriage built on open communication but, instead, your husband would rather close parts of himself off and keep secrets, then you might have to leave him. If you want to be happy and your husband thinks “happiness” is a different thing than you, then you might have to leave him. No matter what problems you are having in your marriage, everything hinges on that question of what you might have to do and the fear that’s keeping you from doing it.

Sometimes deciding what you really want means making it a point to get in touch with friends or family members who know you best, who will be honest with you and who, in turn, you can open up to. Other times it means getting still and quiet, digging down into the depths of yourself and taking a look at what you find there.

Of course, there will be pain as you “go there.” But chances are there’s already been a lot of pain, which is what brings you to reading this page.

Get the support you need before you act

We recommend a woman get fully informed on her choices in life before she makes any big decisions, including telling her husband she wants a divorce. And that the best first stop for that, strategically and economically, is with a seasoned divorce coach—a “thinking partner” who can you help you understand both your emotional and legal journey, what your choices truly are, and what good decision-making looks like.

A coach will bring down your stress levels by helping you understand what questions you must answer first and which ones can wait, or what type of divorce (traditional, mediated, collaborative, or DIY) is right for you. And if you’re not sure about getting a divorce—if you’re just wondering what “normal” even means in a marriage—a coach can help you with that too. (That’s right, meeting with a divorce coach does not mean you are necessarily divorcing.) A coach will also be able to make good referrals, like the best lawyer for your circumstances or the name of a well-respected mediator to interview.

Depending on the circumstances of your marriage, you may have the impulse to punish your husband throughout the divorce process in any way you can. Maybe I’ll blindside him, you’ll think to yourself. I’d love to see the look on his face when he’s served with papers. But doing this starts the divorce process off with nothing but charged emotions, ill will, and resentment—and that’s a bad recipe for both your own recovery and any relationship you and your Ex might have in the future. To say nothing about what it could do to the kids. A divorce coach will help you understand what to do with your anger or sense of betrayal, so you don’t lead from a reactive emotional place that often leads to worse, spiraling lawyer costs and wasted energies.

Consult with a divorce lawyer

A divorce lawyer isn’t just going to file paperwork for you and represent you in court—a good one will also help you set expectations so that you understand going into the divorce process what you’ll be facing. Divorce laws vary state by state, and every case operates on its own timeline. If your soon-to-be Ex isn’t being cooperative or there are circumstances, like abuse, that make protecting both yourself and your children especially crucial, then your attorney can help you by taking steps with the court, like an order of protection or, at the very least, ordering your husband to move out of the marital home.

Prepare as much as you can before filing

Prepare, and then prepare some more. The more knowledge you have throughout the divorce process, the more in control you will feel. But don’t just stop there. Get copies of family photographs or other mementos that you’re sentimental about. Set up your own bank accounts and credit cards if you don’t already have them, and change the passwords to your accounts so that your husband no longer has access to them.

Gather important documents, like birth certificates, mortgage statements, and insurance policies, and make sure you understand your financial situation. If you’re working with a divorce coach, she can put you in touch with a certified divorce financial analyst who can help you understand the big picture, like if you can afford to keep the house. After divorce, it’s not likely that you’ll be able to maintain the lifestyle you led as a married woman, and the more that you prepare for this new future, the better off you’ll be.

Be kind to yourself

There’s the end of your marriage, and then there’s the end of your marriage. By that, we mean, there’s the moment you truly realize your marriage is over. You’re not in love anymore, or maybe something has happened—a betrayal, for instance—that you can’t come back from. And then there’s the moment you actually do something about the end of your marriage—you talk with a divorce coach, consult with an attorney, you negotiate the terms of your divorce, and you file the paperwork.

Everything we’ve covered so far deals largely with the practical, legal, and financial aspects of divorce, but mixed up in there are a whole lot of emotions. Even if you feel a sense of relief now that your marriage is ending, you’re feeling so many other things it’s almost impossible to pinpoint your exact mood from one moment to the next.

Are you happy? Maybe. Are you miserable? Always, except when I’m not. Are you lonely? Even in a crowd. Are you angry? Oh, yes, there’s a lot of that to go around. Are you keeping it together? I have to.

Much of the divorce process is riding out these highs and lows until the road evens out again, the journey becomes smoother, or maybe you just become better for all of it.

Get ready for life after divorce

Your divorce is final when you receive your signed divorce decree, or judgment of divorce, from the court. After that you can change your name, if you want to, and take further steps to separate yourself as much as possible from your Ex financially, such as removing them from insurance policies or your will.

But if you have children, then coparenting them can be another obstacle you must learn to overcome—hopefully together, with your Ex.

Even with DIY divorces or mediation, the divorce process can be long, and the ending of a marriage can feel a lot like grieving. But what, exactly, you are actually grieving feels uncertain. Your relationship with your husband? Your sense of family? Your ability to trust others? The image you projected as the perfect couple, the couple your friends liked? Or what your marriage could have been?

After divorce, all of it seems to have gotten so far away from you, and perspective takes time. Be patient with and kind to yourself. We recommend practicing self-care throughout this journey (and really, always) and taking steps to find your support network if you don’t already have one.

Since 2012, smart women around the world have chosen SAS for Women to partner them through the emotional, financial, and oft times complicated experience of divorce and divorce recovery. Experience SAS firsthand. Schedule your free, 45-minute consultation to hear perspective, next steps and the best resources that will honor your life and who you are meant to be.

*At SAS we respect same-sex marriages, however, for the sake of simplicity in this article we refer to your spouse as a male.

The reality of divorce in New York

The Reality of Divorce in New York

People know New York for its glitz, glamour, and grit. Everything’s loud, over-caffeinated and fast-paced. For some who experience the loneliness of all this, there can be the feeling of being left out, of never being enough, of someone else always lining up to replace you. But despite all of this, or in response, New Yorkers are equally known for being tough and seemingly invulnerable. Even when it comes to romance. Romance, New York style is often over the top or of the quirky variety, the kind of love that sweeps you off your feet. Think Carrie and Mr. Big. Harry and Sally. Jane Fonda and Robert Redford in Barefoot in the Park. It’s the kind of romance they write love songs about. Until it’s not. But divorce in New York? Well, in most of our minds, breakups are equally cinematic. Flash to messy scenes from the Real Housewives of New York, or nuggets of gossip passed privately through whispers, then splashed across Page Six for anyone to see.

Yet, for all those clichés, in reality, divorce in New York State is far more mundane than any image you carry in your mind. In fact, according to the Center for Disease Control, the divorce rate in New York in 2011 was 2.9 for every 1,000 residents. That’s a lower rate than most states in the country!

Of course, when the divorce is happening to us it doesn’t have to be the literal end of the world to feel like it’s the end of ours. Your divorce might come as a complete shock, or it may seem like a long time coming. Either way, it can all feel surreal, like you’re having an out of body experience. How you wish it were just a movie! Yet, this is your life. You are getting a divorce. And throughout your divorce, the surprises may keep coming, bringing out the worst and the best of you.

You may not be feeling so much like Sarah Jessica Parker as Carrie Bradshaw in Sex and the City—young and colorful and ready to take on the world—as you are Sarah Jessica Parker in HBO’s Divorce, a little jaded and angry, feeling dull around the edges but looking for reasons to hope.

If that’s you, if you’re done considering divorce or have had divorce forced upon you, then here’s a primer highlighting what to expect when getting a divorce in New York.

Divorce law in New York

In New York, there are two kinds of divorces, a contested divorce and an uncontested divorce.

In an uncontested divorce, the most trouble-free approach, you and your husband agree about the need for a divorce and you believe you will come to terms on how your property gets divided and how your children are cared for. On your own or with the help of lawyers or a mediator, you and your husband come to an agreement on everything and do not need the court to get involved to divide assets or make decisions about spousal or child support or custody.

Typically, an uncontested divorce moves more quickly through the system. It’s less complicated and less expensive. You will likely never set foot inside a courtroom with an uncontested divorce.

In a contested divorce, you and your husband are not in agreement about any or all of these things. (Hello, your marriage?) If there are disagreements, and often there are, you will likely need the help of a legal professional(s) to resolve them. The more intense the disagreements, the more expensive the process can become and the greater risk you run of having to go to court to have a judge decide.

Many couples will begin the process of a contested divorce and then, before trial, reach an agreement. This is a settlement.

Thanks to the Internet, though, it’s become increasingly popular to consider a Pro Se or DIY divorce and thereby eliminate the costs of lawyers. Couples who do this successfully are couples who are almost always in agreement. (Hmmm.) They are doing an uncontested divorce.

Ask yourself:

  • Are you and your husband really in agreement about everything?
  • What are the critical issues?
  • Do you understand the finances?
  • Do you understand spousal support?
  • What about child support?
  • What are your options for custody arrangements?
  • How are you going to handle your debt? Whose debt is whose?

Our experience is that most women do not know these things, nor do their husbands—but the idea of saving money on legal fees (or being bullied into the DIY process) blinds them from finding out what they are each entitled to by law. There’s a phrase, “You don’t know what you don’t know,” and it couldn’t be more aptly used for this scenario.

How can you split things up if you don’t understand what you’re splitting — like the finances (are you aware of their long-term tax implications?) Or what negotiated variable is going to benefit you more in the long run? You need feedback from someone who’s an expert on your situation.

In short, we recommend you NOT consider a DIY or online approach unless you have no children, there is no debt and little or no assets, and the marriage has not been for very long. And if you do pursue a DIY model, we encourage you to consult with an attorney privately at least once (but preferably throughout your completing the paperwork).

Divorce facts in New York

New York also allows you to get either an at-fault divorce (you must prove your husband is responsible for the need to divorce) or a no-fault divorce.

For most people, it’s easier to seek a no-fault divorce. You don’t have to prove anything other than the relationship is irretrievably broken. “To qualify” in New York, the relationship must be broken for at least six months. Also, New York usually requires that you or your spouse have lived in New York State for at least one year before you can file for divorce.

New York is often associated with all things progressive and liberal, but it was actually the last state in the country to allow no-fault divorce. That means that until 2010, getting a divorce in New York almost always meant that one spouse had to prove the other spouse did something wrong and is to blame. What’s more cinematic than a jilted lover or “cold-heartedly” calculating your actions to create a case where you are the wronged party? It’s a recipe for disaster, for heightening emotions and irrational behavior—for people to lash out and for proceedings to get ugly and expensive and to heighten the risk of going to court.

This said, you can still get an at-fault divorce in New York. To do so, a spouse must have the “legal grounds,” which usually involves adultery, cruel or inhuman treatment, or abandonment. Most divorce lawyers in New York will advise you not to go the at-fault route no matter the dramatic details you may throw their way. It is generally considered a poor use of resources to have a trial on grounds now since the system no longer requires it.

With this in mind, you will want to make sure you understand why your lawyer is pushing for an at-fault divorce, such as “cruel and inhuman treatment,” and how it will benefit your situation as opposed to pursuing a no-fault divorce. We had a client, for example, whose husband had serious mental health issues and refused to seek treatment. Her lawyer filed an at-fault divorce for “cruel and inhuman treatment” as a strategy to protect the children and to impact the custody arrangement, so the children were not left alone with him until he was fully recovered, healthy and functioning.

New York is an equitable distribution state

In New York, assets (the things you own) get divided through “equitable distribution,” meaning, in general, everything you owned prior to getting married is your separate property and everything acquired after your marriage gets divided as fairly as possible.

The separation of property—how you will divide it up—is negotiated between you and your husband, or more likely, by your lawyers after they have consulted with each of you, or with the help of a mediator. But it has to be done well and fairly enough that the court will sign off on the agreement.

These are just a few of the facts that come into play when discussing divorce in New York. There is more you’ll want to know before you proceed further. But we don’t want to contribute to sensory overload.

What matters most is that you are not going to do it all at once, but you will want to be in a position to learn and come to understand what your options are before you make decisions about your property, the debt, child support, custody, spousal support, legal fees, insurance, and more. You might need an order of protection if abuse is a concern, which complicates matters even further.

This is why, whether you pursue a DIY approach, or go to mediation, or use a collaborative attorney, we urge you to get educated on what your choices are first.

Read Divorce in New York: 10 Things to Know Before Seeing a Lawyer

Divorce court

You must know that about five percent of all divorce cases go to full-blown trial. Less than five percent. So turn the television off. The standard way people divorce is still the traditional one, of your hiring an attorney to represent your interests and your husband hiring an attorney to represent his. Your lawyer meets with you individually, as does your husband’s, and then the lawyers negotiate the settlement through phone calls or meetings.

Divorce negotiations are different from negotiations in most other legal matters in that clients usually attend the meetings—known as “four-ways”, with their lawyers. If one side fails to negotiate or settle, then the risk of going to court does increase, and both parties must attend every court appearance with their lawyers. This traditional approach is still the best way for the less-moneyed or less-powerful spouse (the one who lacks money or knowledge about the finances) to get a fair share.

Diversify your insight into how you will divorce

On the plus side of living in New York is that the city and the state can often be frontrunners of change. Just by virtue of your living within New York’s boundaries, there are far more resources available to you than people living in other parts of the country. Take advantage of those resources, like law schools that offer free legal aid, or referral services offered by the New York Legal Bar Association.

You don’t have to rely on visiting a lawyer and learning things the expensive way as most people have done in the past. There are now people like us, the divorce coach, who can help you learn about divorce (and yourself) before you commit to anything. A certified and experienced divorce coach can also connect you to vetted lawyers and other experts — like a certified divorce financial analyst (who can help you answer the money questions). How you choose to divorce matters for your children and your own recovery.

How long does a divorce take in New York?

Okay, we know, you are maxing out. You want to hear how long this is going to take. If we are talking only about the legal aspect to the divorce and not your recovery and healing, than the time it takes to finalize a divorce depends on two things: how motivated you and your spouse are to organize your papers and documents and to push your attorneys to negotiate the agreement and how busy the court that receives and officializes your settlement agreement is.

For some people, it can take as little as six weeks, for others, six months or more for an uncontested divorce. With a contested divorce, there is no way of forecasting it, but certainly, a deciding factor would be when the money runs out.

What’s certain is that divorce anywhere is a (long) process, and while that wait can be frustrating, it also means you won’t be able to jump into anything without thinking it through first (and that might just be a blessing in disguise).

Divorce support groups for women in New York

There are over eight million people living in New York City and more than twice that in New York State. You are not the only one “feeling lost in New York,” or like everything’s falling apart even as you try to put it back together. We say this a lot but only because it’s true: You are not alone. If your couple friends have disappeared and disappointed you, you are lucky to live in a city and state where there are many divorced women and men—and the stigma of divorce is not as pronounced as it may be somewhere else.

Your job is to connect with those people who understand what you are going through and get educated on what your choices are and who you want to be as you make these important decisions. You might consider joining an online education-driven support group with other women who share similar experiences and who seek to find their voice and change their circumstances for the better. Women just like you.

Remember, divorce in New York rarely looks the same as it does on TV, where the drama’s amped to increase ratings and to get you coming back. This is a process none of us wants to experience even once, let alone come back to. Your divorce doesn’t have to be so dramatic. You can choose to let go the theatrics because they don’t serve you, your Ex, or your children, and to focus on what you do control: getting educated fully before you commit to any one path or decision, and to move through the process smartly and with the greatest sense of integrity and compassion for everybody — including you. 

For more steps to help you with divorce join us for your free 45-minute consultation.

Since 2012 smart women around the world have chosen SAS for Women to help them through the emotional and often times complicated experience of divorce. For emotional support and structured guidance now, consider Annie’s Group, our virtual divorce support and coaching class for women thinking about divorce or beginning the process. Schedule your 15-minute chat to learn if this education is right for you, where you are in your life, and most importantly, where you want to go.

 

This article was authored for SAS for Women by Melanie Figueroa, a writer and content editor who loves discussing women’s issues and creativity. Melanie helps authors and small businesses improve their writing and solve their editorial needs.

*We support same-sex marriages. For the sake of simplicity in this article, however, we refer to your spouse as your “husband” or a “he.”

Divorce decree

Demystifying Your Divorce Decree

What is a Divorce Decree? And who decides what’s in it?

The Divorce Decree, often referred to as the “Judgment of Divorce” or “JOD,” is the document that makes your divorce official under the law. It’s an Order of the Court that formally dissolves a marriage.

As anyone who has been through the process will tell you, the road to that Divorce Decree is long even in a straightforward case, and just when you think the end is in sight, there is often another bend in the path. People are usually relieved to arrive at a Divorce Agreement (the final resolution of all the issues in the divorce by agreement of you and your spouse—with or without the assistance of a court along the way) only to learn that the divorce process is not quite over.

Divorce Decree vs. Divorce Agreement

The Divorce Decree is a completely separate document from your Divorce Agreement, and no one even starts thinking about the Decree until the divorce case is fully settled between you and your spouse and memorialized in the Divorce Agreement, or all the issues have been decided by the Court.

The Divorce Decree is only a handful of pages whereas the Divorce Agreement could be fifty or sixty pages. However, just about every Decree includes a sentence saying that the terms of the Agreement are made a part of the Decree “by reference.” This means that each term of your very, very detailed Agreement is solidly enforceable regardless of whether it is also specifically mentioned in the brief Decree.

The Divorce Decree is prepared by your lawyer and submitted to the Court to be signed by the Judge. Most often you, your spouse and your lawyers agree to the wording of the JOD and sign off on the Decree that is submitted to the Court. But sometimes you won’t be able to agree on the terms of the Decree. When this happens, each party submits a Proposed Judgment to the Court and the Judge chooses which one to sign.

Once the Judge signs the Decree, it needs to be processed by the County Clerk’s Office and entered into the County’s records. Only then is the Judgment finally ready for pickup.The lawyer who filed the Judgment is usually the one who obtains a copy from the Court, and she will serve it on the other party with a cover sheet called the Notice of Entry. Service of the Divorce Decree with Notice of Entry and filing a copy of that Notice of Entry in Court makes your divorce as official and final as can be.

I keep hearing about “Divorce Papers.” What are those?

The Judgment of Divorce is submitted to the Court with about fifteen other documents (give or take depending on the case, but always including your Divorce Agreement if you have one). Some of these need to be signed by you, some need to be signed by your Ex, and some are signed by one or both of your respective attorneys. Together, these documents are referred to as “Divorce Papers.”

One spouse’s lawyer will prepare the Papers, and the other spouse’s lawyer will review and edit them. The back-and-forth over the Divorce Papers usually takes a few weeks, but take heart: this process is generally low stress and a world away from negotiating the Divorce Agreement.

The court system in most places is very strict about the contents of the Papers so the negotiation about the contents primarily centers around technical concerns and formalities rather than substance.

Related: How Long Does It Take to Get Over a Divorce? And 4 Signs You Are On Your Way

So when will I have that final Decree in hand?

In geographic areas with busy court systems, like New York City, it often takes about three months from when your lawyer files your Divorce Papers until the Judgment of Divorce is signed by the Court, entered into County records by the Clerk, and made ready for pickup. In today’s automated world, this long processing time seems shocking, but the Court system is mind-bogglingly old fashioned even in the “greatest city in the world.” In other places in the country it could be must faster—or slower.

Your lawyer needs to send someone to hand deliver the Divorce Papers to the Courthouse where there is sometimes only a single person whose job it is to review and accept the Papers. When this person takes a vacation, no Divorce Papers can be filed. It is as simple (and absurd) as that. Depending on whether your case was ever in litigation or not, your Papers will either go directly to your Judge or be randomly assigned. Reviewing Divorce Papers is tedious grunt work, and all the Judges have stacks of them so they tend to hang out for a while. When the Papers finally make it off the Judge’s desk and are recorded in the Clerk’s Office, your lawyer is not notified by email but instead by postcard.

But I’m ready to work on moving on and putting the divorce process behind me. Am I at the mercy of the County Clerk to start living like I’m divorced?

The good news is that most people will feel emotionally divorced upon the signing of their Divorce Agreement and Divorce Papers.

The “Big Day” in the life cycle of a divorce is the day the you and your soon-to-be Ex sign your Divorce Agreement—or less frequently, the day the Judge hands down a final decision after a trial on the issues in the divorce.

By the time most people receive their signed and entered Divorce Decree in the mail from their attorney they have put much of the upheaval of the divorce process behind them. They’ve been living by the custody and support terms of their Divorce Agreement for a few months and have divided most, if not all, of their property. They’ve begun the important work of individually recovering and rebuilding their lives.

Is there anything that absolutely must wait until I receive my Divorce Decree?

While most of the terms of your divorce go into effect when you sign an Agreement or after a Judge decides the issues in your case, there is one big exception.

You cannot make changes to health insurance coverage until the Divorce Decree is entered in the Clerk’s Office. The law is extremely strict about this—you are entitled to remain on your spouse’s health insurance plan until the Judgment of Divorce is entered into the records of the County Clerk.

My Divorce Decree is finally ready. Where do I get a copy, and what do I need it for?

You can obtain a Certified copy of your Judgment of Divorce at any time for a nominal fee. In New York County the fee is $8.00 plus a few cents per page in copy charges. Some counties allow you to obtain a Certified copy by mail, but others still require you to go to the County Clerk’s Office in person. If you are represented by an attorney, he or she will usually obtain a Certified copy and send it to you for your records as a matter of routine.

The Divorce Decree is an extremely important record akin to a birth certificate or marriage certificate. You will need it if you want to change your name after divorce and again to obtain a marriage license if you want to remarry someday. It is also proof of your divorce that may be relevant to areas like your income taxes, insurance policies, social security benefits, and retirement accounts.

Your Divorce Decree is also a powerful document because it is a Court Order. If you ever need to call the police because there is a custody problem, you will want to have the Decree to show them. Similarly, if you ever need to go to Court to change or enforce the terms of your divorce, you will need to submit a copy of the Decree.

Two or three Certified copies retrieved directly from the Court is probably enough to maintain on hand as a photocopy will suffice for many purposes. You can obtain additional copies at any time no matter how long ago your Divorce was filed.

For more than 20 years, Nina Epstein and law partner Elyse Goldweber have helped individuals and families in the New York City metropolitan area with the full range of legal issues associated with creation and dissolution of personal unions—including divorce, separation, and child custody and support. Ariella Deutsch is a more recent but no less passionate member of their legal team. For more information on how they might assist you please call (212) 355-4149.

Since 2012 smart women around the world have chosen SAS for Women to partner them through the emotional and often times complicated experience of divorce. We invite you to learn what’s possible for you. Schedule you free, 45 minute consultation with SAS. Whether you are coping or already navigating your life afterward, a significant difference for women is the conscious choice to not do divorce alone.

Parenting Through Divorce is not a cake walk

Parenting Through Divorce: 8 Things NOT to Do

Being a parent always offers a healthy dose of challenges, but parenting through divorce means facing challenges on a whole other level. Throughout your divorce, you may feel a surge of emotions—from anger to bitterness—but it’s ever so important to cope with them. Despite the impulses you may feel, these are some things you should not do to lessen the impact of divorce on you and your children.

1. Don’t aim to seek justice through the court system

Do everything to avoid court by getting educated in advance. Learn what your legal choices are and how you want to go through the divorce process. Talk to a divorce coach to understand your choices based on your needs, your story, and to help you take the next steps. Going to Family Court is a last resort. You want to negotiate and reach an agreement before then. Negotiating will save you months in court and thousands of dollars—plus it can result in a more harmonious coparenting relationship.

2. Don’t make your children choose sides

It’s important to recognize that your children do not have the same relationship with your Ex that you do. With some exceptions, children naturally love both their parents. Respect your children’s bond with your Ex by never asking your children whom they want to live with or who’s the better parent. If your children share unprompted thoughts about parenting arrangements, listen and ask your divorce coach, attorney, or mediator how they can be taken into consideration as decisions are made.

3. Don’t complain about your Ex in front of your kids

Pay attention to how you speak about your Ex in front of your children. Do you demean him or her? Do you get angry? Even your body language or tone of voice can send confusing and painful messages to your children. Over time, the hatred or bitterness you feel toward your Ex can dissipate, but these emotions will leave a lasting impression on your kids. Even if children and teenagers don’t verbalize their thoughts, hearing you complain about their other parent does affect them.

4. Don’t keep the kids from your Ex

Studies show that children can develop mental health issues when there is a disruption of a parent-child relationship. Do what you can to support your children’s relationship with their other parent. There are special circumstances, however, where you should keep your children away from your Ex, like when there has been a history of domestic or substance abuse. In these cases, supervised visitation is the best way for your Ex to have contact with your children.

5. Don’t coach your children

Coaching your children to say what you want is a big no-no. During the divorce process, you may deal with a judge and possibly a custody evaluator—both are trained specialists and will know if your kids are repeating lines they’ve heard from you. Not only will this make you look bad, but it will put your kids in a terrible position. Divorce is a difficult situation for them, too, and coaching your children could confuse them more.

6. Don’t go to court with your children

If you become involved in a custody battle, it might seem like a good idea to take your children to a court proceeding to sway a judge’s decision. But this could backfire. A courtroom is no place for children and dragging yours along could make you seem manipulative or irrational. If no one is available to care for your little ones while you attend Family Court, many courts offer children’s waiting rooms.

7. Don’t make false claims

If you do go to court, making false claims about your Ex is one of the worst things you can do. Lying under oath and fabricating statements are considered perjury, a crime punishable with fines or jail time.  Getting caught making false claims is also likely to affect your request for custody; you could even be brought back to court to have a final order changed. To avoid these and other sticky situations, always acknowledge the truth of events.

8. Don’t leave the state with your children (or break other standing orders)

Some counties have standing orders that go into effect when a divorce is filed. Other counties issue standing orders when requested. A standing order will come into place to ensure that you and your Ex refrain from any actions that could disrupt the lives of your children. Taking your kids out of state or enrolling them in a new school without permission from your Ex may violate your standing orders. Be sure to carefully review your court’s standing orders because failure to comply could make you guilty of contempt of court, an offense punishable with jail time or a fine. If you wonder if you can or cannot do something as your divorce coach or legal counsel. Getting divorced can be a scary and lonely path. Educating yourself on the do’s and don’ts of the process will make you feel more empowered and less intimidated. With the right mindset and knowledge, you will avoid making mistakes that will impact your family and begin to parent through divorce in the healthiest way.

This article was authored by Karen Lopez, writer and researcher at Custody X Change, a custody app solution. Custody X Change provides software for developing and managing custody agreements, parenting plans, and schedules.

Since 2012 smart women around the world have chosen SAS for Women to help them through the often times complicated and confusing experience of divorce. For emotional support and structured guidance now, consider Annie’s Group, our virtual divorce support and coaching class for women thinking about divorce or beginning the process. Schedule your 15-minute chat now to learn if this education is right for you, and where you want to go.