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How Much Does a Divorce Cost in New York City?

Preparing for the total financial cost is one of the most critical and daunting factors in planning for a divorce. While the average price for a lawyer-led divorce in the United States is approximately $7,000 – $11,0001 (and usually stems from a more heavily contested case), the national average cost of an uncontested, Do It Yourself (DIY) divorce is $2002. That’s a big span.  But where does New York City stand in particular with divorce costs?

How Much Does a Divorce Cost in New York City?

New York City is known for its high energy, high spirit, and high cost of living. This holds true for the high price of a divorce in the city, too. Check out “The Reality of Divorce in New York City” to understand more, but if we compare it to the rest of the state, the Big Apple boasts some of the most expensive legal professionals in the country. New York price averages reflect the large (and expensive) lawyers in metropolitan New York City, therefore a divorce in a different part of the state will likely be lower than the given averages3.

New York City-based lawyers are among the highest-paid in the country. The rough estimate for a lawyer-led divorce in New York City ranges from $13,000 to $25,000 (per person)4 at the base level. For an uncontested DIY divorce, the New York divorce filing fees alone cost $335.5 That’s another big spread in costs.

This article will explore your choices for divorce in New York City and unpack how much it may cost you.

Different Types of Divorce

Different types of divorce will cost different amounts. Henceforth, their complexity and the time needed to devote to the case. An uncontested divorce will always cost less than a contested divorce because both parties agree (ultimately) on all aspects in an uncontested divorce. The price of a contested divorce will range based on complexity. Read this article to make sure you appreciate the difference between a Contested and Uncontested Divorce.

As for “how” you will divorce, or which model of divorce to use, there are four main types of divorces:

  1. The Traditional, lawyer-led model (for Uncontested or Contested divorces)
  2. Mediation (for Uncontested Divorces)
  3. The Collaborative Model (for Uncontested Divorces)
  4. DIY (or Do-It-Yourself, for Uncontested Divorces). To learn more about the 4 different types of divorce, check out this article that explains the specific models.

How Much Does a Divorce Cost in New York City for Traditional Divorces?

When you think of divorce, you often think of the traditional model, where a lawyer prepares your case. Most of your expenses in a traditional divorce will come from a lawyer’s retainer and trial preparation (if you go to court). In New York State, the average hourly cost of a divorce lawyer is $175-325 per hour.6 However, New York City lawyers tend to be more expensive, averaging $340 per hour,7 but can cost you upwards of $800 or more per hour. This hourly fee is on top of the court filing fee of $335 and the in-court fee for litigated divorces, which is $120 per day in New York State.

Even when lawyers are involved, most divorces are uncontested, which means you and your spouse negotiate through your lawyers and eventually agree on most issues.

An uncontested divorce in New York City will run you roughly $5,500 per person8. This accounts for filing fees, lawyer consultations, and settlement agreements.

If your divorce is contested, meaning you and your spouse cannot agree on the issues and must go to trial, your cost will increase considerably. This is because preparing for court is costly. For a trial based on one issue, expect the price to increase by $16,000-$20,000, and for a trial based on two or more points, $22,000-$27,000. The total cost of your litigated divorce will depend on the complexity of your issues. This includes issues like property division, child custody, child support, and spousal maintenance. 

The average price of full litigation for a divorce in New York City is $50,000 — or $25,000 per person.

Finally, New York is one of the few states that still allows for a fault-based divorce. A fault-based divorce is far more expensive than a no-fault divorce. You can choose whether you want to file a no-fault, which means that your marriage is “irretrievably broken,” or a fault divorce, which charges the offending spouse with physical or mental abuse, adultery, abandonment, or imprisonment. Fault-based divorces are far more expensive because they will almost certainly go to trial, and your lawyer must work to discover and prove evidence that proves fault.

Learn about Fault vs. No fault divorce in this SAS piece.

Wonder what “Irreconcilable Differences” are when it comes to divorce? Check out this piece “What are Irreconcilable Differences and Do They Apply to You?”

How Much Does a Divorce Cost in New York City for DIY Divorces?

For a completely uncontested divorce, you might consider a DIY divorce. This is possible only if you and your spouse agree on all aspects of the divorce. and you are willing and able to invest a lot of time and energy into your case. This is because you will be responsible for it all on your own. If this is the case, your main cost will be the New York Court’s filing fee. Every state has a filing fee for filing your divorce with the court. This is the bare minimum, mandatory cost of a divorce. The New York City divorce filing fee is $335. This filing fee is added to the county’s index number cost. The index number is the number for your case that you put on all the papers before you file (it’s like a case identification number). The general index cost in New York is $210.

The absolute lowest cost for a DIY divorce in New York City is about $545 and accounts only for the filing fee and the index fee.

However, because the courts know how difficult it is to perfect the court process entirely on your own, New York offers an online divorce platform to assist you in your DIY divorce. This online system costs about $130. There any many reasons why a couple might invest in a New York Divorce Online service. A service would allow you to fill out the forms wherever and whenever you want, to take your time and be thoughtful with your information, to easily correct any mistakes you might make on the forms, and to have complete control over the process. A DIY divorce is the cheapest and the most personally labor-intensive type of divorce in New York City. Read “How Does an Online Divorce Work?”

SAS Tip: If you have the ability to dedicate time and energy and have an uncomplicated situation, then a DIY divorce is the least expensive option – but we only recommend it if you have little or no assets or debt and there are no children involved.

How Much Does a Divorce Cost in New York City for Uncontested Divorces? (Mediation)

Mediation, rather than litigation, is another option for an uncontested divorce. You might consider meditation if you and your spouse agree on all important aspects of your divorce (think property, child custody and support, and spousal maintenance). Mediation aims to save money by agreeing without having to enter the courtroom or go to trial. In most cases, this option will be far less expensive than a traditional divorce.

The average cost of private mediation in the state of New York ranges from $4,000 – $8,000,9 with New York City being on the higher end of the range.

Typically, mediation costs correlate to how complicated the divorce is (like with traditional lawyer costs) and the number of mediation sessions needed. Mediation fees typically include one to four sessions with a mediator, the preparation of the settlement agreement, and the cost of preparing and filing the divorce papers with the court.

Just like in traditional divorces, the more complex the case is, the more it will cost. The main cost factors in mediation are the number of issues in the case, the complexity of the problems, the cooperation of both parties, and the need for outside experts or specialists. If you use outside support, which is often a good thing, you will want to read this article on how “Hiring a Mediation Attorney in a Divorce Could Save You Money.”

Collaborative Divorce

In New York City, collaborative divorces are still relatively new.

  1. Divorce attorneys assist couples in resolving the contentious issues of divorce in a problem-solving manner.
  2. Lawyers negotiate on behalf of their clients and do not prepare for trial, putting them somewhere between mediation and full litigation.
  3. Divorces are typically less expensive than litigation and court battles, but they can occasionally cost even more. The cost of a collaborative divorce is determined by the complexity of the case.

In some cases, you might need to bring in a team of experts, like therapists, financial experts, or child psychologists, to reach a mutual agreement. Adding experts to a case will significantly increase the overall cost. If no additional experts are needed, then you are paying for the ease and peaceful problem-solving nature that accompanies a collaborative divorce.

Tip: If you have children and do not want to subject them to the litigious court process, you might consider mediation or budgeting for a higher-cost collaborative divorce – to keep the peace for the sake of your children.

Conclusion

Divorces are expensive. They take extensive planning and budgeting to ensure you can afford the type of divorce you want for the results you desire. Prior research and understanding of your options will ensure that there are no financial surprises or unneeded lessons learned the hard way. Make sure you advocate for yourself and ask questions before committing to any divorce model or legal process.

NOTES

Elizabeth Newland is a third-year law student in Chicago who is committed to children and family rights. She aims to work in a family-related non-profit firm after graduation. 

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

 

*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.”

Sources

  1. How Much Divorce Lawyers Charge, Lawyers.com
  2. How Much Does a Divorce Cost in 2022?, Forbes
  3. New York Divorce: How Much Does it Cost? How Long Does it Take? “New York’s statewide averages are likely a reflection of the large number of attorneys in our study from the greater New York City metropolitan area, where hourly rates were among the highest in the nation.”
  4. How Much Divorce Lawyers Charge, Lawyers.com
  5. Filing for an Uncontested Divorce, NYCourts.gov
  6. How Much Does a Divorce Lawyer Cost in New York?, OnlineDivorceNY.com
  7. How Much Does a Divorce Lawyer Cost in New York?, OnlineDivorceNY.com
  8. How Much Divorce Lawyers Charge, Lawyers.com
  9. How Much Does Divorce Mediation Cost in New York, Snap Divorce
Which States Have the Shortest Residency Requirement to Divorce

Which States Have the Shortest Residency Requirement to Divorce (and Which Ones, the Longest?)

Figuring out where to file for divorce can be tricky. Each state has different rules and timelines that dictate who is eligible to file for divorce in that specific state. In this article, we’ll be providing insight as to what the most common requirements are to file for divorce, which states have the longest residency requirements for divorce, and which ones have the shortest. As well, we’ll explore particular requirements of certain states, and finally, what to do to make sure your divorce is finalized as quickly as possible. 

What is residency and residency requirements?

Every single US state has a residency requirement before you can file for divorce in that state.  Residency, or sometimes your attorney may use the word “domicile” means that you live in the state that you are filing. Domicile, however, requires you to reside there and have intent to remain in the state. Residency just means that you need to be present in the state at the time of filing. 

For a divorce to be filed in the proper state, either you, your Soon-to-Be-Ex, or both of you need to be residents of the state in which you are filing for a divorce. Only one of you needs to be a resident. Keep that in mind in case you and your Soon-to-Be-Ex separate and move to different states and want to obtain a divorce.

Some states have longer residency requirements, and others have much shorter ones

States implemented residency requirements so couples could not “forum shop” and pick the state with the best divorce laws for their situation. Instead, you need to meet the residency requirement before you can file for a divorce. Each state differs in its residency requirement. Most states have a 6-month residency requirement. That means you have to live in the state for 6 months before filing for a divorce in that state. 

States that are fast at granting a divorce

Some states are much faster at divorces than others. For example, Alaska, South Dakota, and Washington state only require that you be a resident at the time of filing. So, say you move to Alaska on Monday. Tuesday, you can file for divorce there.  

It’s important to remember that filing your divorce is the first step in the legal process. Even after you meet any residency requirement, the court still needs some processing time to finalize your divorce. Other states are faster than others at this. Alaska is notoriously fast at finalizing a divorce. Alaska, Nevada, and South Dakota can usually finalize a divorce in just under two months. Of course, each divorce is different and your particular circumstances could cause a delay. For example, the fastest divorces are ones in which you and your Soon-to-Be-Ex agree on everything (an uncontested divorce). In this case, you (or your lawyer) just need to send in the agreements for the judge to approve. 

Understand more about “agreeing on everything” by reading “What’s the Difference Between a Contested and Uncontested Divorce?” And if you want more info on what makes a “contested divorce,” read this important piece.

States that are slower in granting a divorce

Some states take much longer to get a divorce. They may have a longer residency requirement, and also have long waiting periods before your divorce is finalized. California, for example, has a 6-month state residency requirement and a 3-month county residency requirement. Vermont is another state that is notoriously slow at finalizing divorces. Vermont has a  one-year residency requirement, and there needs to be six months where you and your spouse live separately, and a three-month “decree nisi” period before the judge approves the divorce. This decree nisi just means that the judgment (in this case, your divorce) will become binding at a later date.

What you can do to speed up your divorce

Something else to keep in mind is whether or not your state has “no-fault” divorce. No fault divorce means that you do not have to prove something is wrong in your marriage, or someone is to blame; you just have to inform the court that irreconcilable differences caused a breakdown of the marriage. Most states have no-fault divorce laws, but if your state is a faults divorce state, there may be a long process to prove someone did something wrong in your marriage. Certain “faults” that warrant a divorce are adultery, insanity, alienation of affection, or emotional and physical abuse. Read more about fault vs. no-fault divorce in this SAS article.

Something else that can cause a delay in your divorce process is whether or not your state requires parenting classes. Some states like Illinois for example, require parents who want to get a divorce to complete an online parenting class before allowing the parties to divorce one another. 

Check out “6 Essential Things to Know About an Illinois Divorce.”

Certain state requirements, such as parenting classes, will be something that your attorney will know. Make sure to ask a divorce attorney about any particular requirements you may face in your state so that you can get going on anything you need to get done to ensure your divorce moves along swiftly.

If you’ve not yet connected for an educational consultation with a divorce attorney near you, check out this piece on how to find a good divorce lawyer.

It is important to note that there can be another issue to consider when evaluating where you can file for divorce. If you have children, child custody cases must be filed in the child’s home state. 

While it is not completely in your control, as each state is different, there are things that you and your spouse can do to make the process faster. Transparency with your attorney and your Soon-to-be-Ex is the best policy. The faster you can agree on things without the judge, the faster your divorce will be finalized and ready to go. That being said, never feel the need to settle if your spouse is not willing to negotiate. The judge can step in, that’s what the justice system is there for. 

Conclusion about residency requirements

To summarize, each state varies in the residency requirements to get a divorce. Some states have additional requirements on top of residency that you need to know about before filing for divorce. Make sure you learn the rules for the state in which you file your divorce. Regardless of any waiting period or specific requirements, the more on top of things you are, the faster you can get your divorce finalized.

NOTES

Alexa Valenzisi is a rising 3L student in Chicago who is committed to child law and education law. She aims to work in education law or family law after graduation.

Annie’s Group

For women thinking about … or beginning the divorce process, you’ll want to consider Annie’s Group, SAS for Women’s signature, 3-month group coaching program for those wanting an education, community, and guidance for learning what is possible for their lives. Whether it’s separation, divorce, or even staying married, commit to discovering what will be the healthiest thing for you and for everyone.

Check out Annie Group here.

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

Legal Issues of Divorce

The 4 Biggest Legal Issues You Might Face in Divorce

Each and every divorce is unique in its own way. That being said, there are certain legal issues that just about every single divorce proceeding deals with. You might not know that, because the phrases or words your divorce attorney uses, or the way the legal issues are presented in your research, or the documents and forms you are viewing can be very confusing, foreign-sounding, and alienating. This is why, to make things clearer and more accessible for you, we present the following: a breakdown of the 4 biggest legal issues you might face in your legal divorce process.

Legal Issues of Property Division

As one of the most common legal issues in divorce, property division is an umbrella term that encompasses a lot of the financial aspects of your divorce. Property division focuses on your assets and divides them equitably. It is important to know that courts focus on equity, not equality, so don’t be surprised if your property isn’t divided 50/50 at the end of your divorce. 

There are four major steps in figuring out property division: 

  1. Identify the property. 

Your attorney will ask you to fill out some sort of financial affidavit, which is a fancy way of listing out your assets. This can be culled from income statements, deeds, financial documents, and tax returns, but involves retirement accounts, cars, your house, in fact, anything you, your spouse, or both of you own. You will need to disclose everything.

  1. Classify the property as marital or non-marital. 

Then your attorney will want to figure out what is your separate property, and what is marital property. Whatever is your own property, you keep to yourself. However, how your assets (and debt) are considered (whether it’s your property or marital property) depends very much on which state you live in and the divorce law there.

Read more in our “Property Division: Community Property States vs. Equitable Distribution States.”

For example, say you have a savings account only in your name, and your spouse has one in their name. You would keep your respective savings accounts; however, if you two had a joint bank account, that becomes marital property because you both “own” it.

  1. Assign the value to all of the marital property. 

This is usually a relatively easy step. If you have a joint bank account that has $5,000.00 in it, that is worth $5,000.00. Attorneys typically ask what the fair market value is to figure out the worth of a vehicle, house, or other tangible items. 

  1. Divide the marital property equitably. 

After figuring out all marital property, every asset needs to be divided equitably. It is important to note that “fault” is not considered in an equitable division. For example, if your Ex cheats on you, that is not a factor when determining how to equitably divide a property. 

Read the SAS “Fault vs. No-Fault Divorce” article to understand more about “fault.” 

Legal Issues of Spousal Maintenance

Another common legal issue in divorce pertains to maintenance, which is another name for alimony. Maintenance is one adult paying the living expenses of another. Maintenance is usually the most unpredictable aspect of divorce because there are a lot of factors that courts will look at to determine who, if anyone, should receive maintenance. That being said, courts are leaning towards a formula approach rather than a factor approach to make things more predictable. 

How Maintenance Works

The most important factor courts look at is the ability of the spouse with the lower income to support themselves post-divorce. The easiest way to explain maintenance is to give a standard example courts see during divorces: 

Say a couple has been married for 15 years. The woman, after having children with her husband, decides to stop working and stay at home with the kids. The court considers the mother’s income to be $0. This has nothing to do with the “worth” of a stay-at-home parent, but rather, they do not have an income from a job. Say the father in this example makes $100,000.00 a year. The woman, over the years, got used to a standard of living with a $100,00.00 income. Maintenance accounts for her standard of living during the marriage and her ability for her to support herself. In this case, the man would definitely have to pay maintenance to the wife. 

Maintenance can be permanent or short-term, and it can be modified. The key term to modifying maintenance is a “substantial change in circumstances.” If someone wants to modify maintenance, they have to prove a substantial change in circumstances occurred. 

You and your Ex can waive your right or his right to maintenance as well. Similarly, not every divorce case is one where maintenance is appropriate. Maintenance, whether paying it or receiving it, is not guaranteed in your divorce. 

Legal Issues of Custody and Parenting Time

These legal issues only apply if you have a minor child. A minor child is a child under the age of 18 who is not emancipated. If you have at least one minor child, custody and parenting time will be something brought up in your divorce. 

There are two types of custody: legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody is the power to make legal decisions (school, medical, religion, etc.), and physical custody relates to the day-to-day routine (routine care, outfits for school, etc.).

Custody is awarded in the best interest of the child. The best interest of the child does not mean asking the child who they want to live with. Instead, courts will look at the entire situation that both parents are in, and figure out who should have custody based on the best interest of the child. 

Child Support

Child support is the financial aspect of child-related legal issues. It is incredibly important to understand that parenting time and child support are two separate issues – so just because you have parenting time, it does not mean you may be owed child support and vice versa. 

Courts usually take a formula approach to calculating child support, so it’s a pretty predictable financial issue in your divorce. The majority of states follow this formula: 

(Gross monthly income of parent 1) + (Gross monthly income of parent 2) = the parents’ combined income

Courts take the combined income and multiply it by a child support percentage, coming up with a “child support amount,” and then figure out who is owed what portion of that amount. 

Child support is usually awarded to the parent who has the child, or children, the most amount of time. So if your kids live with you most days out of the year, your Ex would owe you child support. Child support is designed to take care of the everyday essentials for children. Child support ends when you and your Ex’s youngest child turns 18. 

For more on this important topic, read “Child Support: 5 Things Mothers Must Know.”

Prenup and Postnup

Some couples decide to sign a prenuptial (prenup) or a postnuptial (postnup) agreement. A prenup is signed before you are married, and a postnup is signed after you are married. In the eyes of the law, prenups and postnups are binding contracts. If you signed either one of these before or during your divorce, it will be binding on your divorce agreement. This means that if you do have a prenup or postnup, whatever you agreed to in those contracts will be part of your divorce settlement. 

Check out “The Top 7 Things to Know About Postnuptial Agreements.”

If you did not sign any prenup or post nup, this is nothing to worry about. It just means there is no prior contract between you and your Ex and you can negotiate as many issues as you would like during your divorce. 

Legal Issues in Settlement vs. Trial

Your attorneys may encourage you to try to settle with your spouse. Settling basically means you come to an agreement with your Ex before going to court and having a judge decide certain details about your divorce. The biggest positives of settling are it will cost way less in attorney’s fees and lessen the ongoing, emotional rollercoaster of dealing with your break up. Settling is the best option if you and your spouse are in agreement with most legal issues of your divorce, or will eventually agree to them. So, do keep it top of mind when you talk to your attorney. 

If you are thinking about or beginning divorce, you’ll want to check out this complete list of things to help you stay organized and protected:  “55 Must Do’s On Your Modern Divorce Checklist.”

Legal Issues in Divorce: Get to Know Your Terminology

While every divorce is different, there are some things that almost every couple has to deal with. Property division and spousal maintenance are standard legal issues in any divorce. If you and your Ex have a minor child, you’ll also have to figure out custody and child support. This is not an exhaustive list, but a pretty good start to know what issues may arise and what your attorney may ask you about when you start your divorce. 

NOTES

Alexa Valenzisi is a rising 3L student in Chicago who is committed to child law and education law. She aims to work in education law or family law after graduation. 

Whether you are thinking about divorce, dealing with it, or 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 oftentimes complicated experience of breaking up and reinventing.  Join our tribe and receive six free months of email coaching, action plans, checklists, and support strategies for you — and your precious future. Be with us and stay connected.

Spousal Support - Divorce and Alimony

Spousal Support, Alimony and Maintenance: Who Gets It?

Spousal support goes by a lot of different names in the world of divorce law: maintenance, alimony, and spousal support can all be used interchangeably. Maintenance is the more modern, most common term that courts use today, though the concept of maintenance has been around for quite some time. In fact, the idea of alimony dates back to the Middle Ages. But modern maintenance has changed a lot since then. Here’s a breakdown of what you should know about maintenance and how it works today. 

What is “Maintenance” Spousal Support and Who Pays It? 

Maintenance is when one spouse provides financial spousal support to his or her Ex. Maintenance helps ensure that the spouse with lower income can still support themselves after the divorce. Courts want to make sure that after a divorce, each spouse lives the same type of lifestyle they had during their marriage, which can sometimes lead to legal issues in the alimony agreement negotiation. To do this, courts approximate the “marital standard of living” and make sure the maintenance payment provides you and your Ex the proper funds to maintain that standard of living on your own.  

Historically, the wife received maintenance because the husband had a duty to support his wife financially. Maintenance used to also account for whose “fault” the divorce was and would make that spouse pay the other. Today, the more modern rationale for maintenance is rooted in “economic partnership”. Courts now look less at the traditional male and female roles within a marriage, and instead, look at the amount of money each person makes. So yes, if you are a woman, the breadwinner, and the primary caretaker of your children, you may have to pay your Ex maintenance. 

If you are a Stay-At-Home-Mom, discover more must-knows by reading “How to Prepare for Divorce if You are a Stay-At-Home-Mom.”

If you make more money than your spouse, check out “Breadwinning Women Face an Uphill Battle When Marrying and Divorcing.”

Is This Related to Child Support?

Maintenance is completely separate from child support and parental responsibilities. You can receive child support but have to pay your Ex maintenance. This would be most likely if you were the both primary caretaker of your children and the breadwinner of the family. This may seem like a shock, but as more mothers become the primary income earner, paying spousal support maintenance to their husband is becoming more and more common. If you are the breadwinner of your family, it is important to have your financials organized and in check. Your attorney will ask for your financial documents almost immediately at the beginning of your divorce journey. 

Maintenance statutes are present in every state, but the way courts go about them in each state can differ. Maintenance is typically a factor test. Courts look at the length of the marriage, the ages of the couple, the job skills they have, the income gap between the couples, and much more. Not every couple going through a divorce are “eligible” for maintenance payments. For example, if a couple married for 15 years has one partner who makes $300,000.00 a year and the other who did not go to college and stayed home to raise the kids, this would definitely be a maintenance case.

This means that the higher-earning spouse would have to pay maintenance to the other. But, if a couple was married for 2 years and had pretty equal levels of income, the likelihood of this being a maintenance case is much lower. These are just a few details that contribute to the legal issues of determining alimony and spousal support.

Changing Your Maintenance

Maintenance can also change over time. Originally, maintenance was a lifetime commitment, meaning that once someone was on the hook for maintenance, they were on the hook for the rest of their life. Now, it’s harder to obtain permanent maintenance, but not impossible. Instead, courts usually award temporary maintenance. Maintenance can change based on the circumstances you and your Ex fall into after your divorce becomes final. These circumstances can range from you or your Ex marrying someone else to a change in financial earnings, both of which can affect spousal support.

How to Modify Maintenance

The key to modifying maintenance is to prove that a substantial change in circumstances has occurred. Whoever wants to modify the maintenance has to prove that a substantial change in circumstances has in fact occurred. Either spouse can ask the court to modify maintenance. For example, if you are paying your Ex maintenance and your Ex gets a huge promotion at work and their salary increases, this would be a substantial change in circumstances. You could argue they do not need as much spousal support anymore, and that your maintenance payment should be modified to a smaller amount. On the flip side, if your Ex in that same situation got laid off, they can argue that there was a substantial change in circumstances and that they need more maintenance from you because now they have no income. 

Nobody likes paying maintenance. You can contract out of maintenance during your divorce journey if you want. Within your divorce settlement agreement in Illinois, for example, you can “waive” your right to maintenance, and your Ex can too. If you choose to do this, in your marital settlement agreement, you would have a section that states you do not want maintenance, and you will not ask for it in the future. This is a great option if you and your Ex earn about the same income, or for whatever reason you agree that there is no need to pay spousal support. You may want to consider getting a financial consultation to look at your options with the help of an expert and to better understand the details involved in these legal issues.

Maintenance and Taxes

One thing of note is that maintenance is taxed to the recipient, so keep that in mind if you are awarded maintenance. It’s important to ensure you have your finances in check during and after your divorce. Because things like maintenance can change, it’s a good idea to have your finances organized in case anything comes up later down the line.  

Conclusion: Spousal Support Varies

Spousal support maintenance is not something to be afraid of or embarrassed by whether you receive it, or pay it to your Ex. Maintenance is something that comes up in any divorce in some way, shape, or form. The modern approach to maintenance is to ensure that you and your Ex can maintain the same standard of living you two had during your marriage. Maintenance is a huge part of the financial elements of your divorce journey, so you and your attorney will definitely discuss this issue early on in your conversations so you adequately negotiate what is right for you. 

NOTES

Alexa Valenzisi is a rising 3L student in Chicago committed to the legal issues that arise in child law and education law. She aims to work in education law or family law after graduation. 

Whether you are thinking about divorce, dealing with it, or 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 oftentimes complicated experience of breaking up and reinventing. 

SAS offers all women six free months of email coaching, action plans, checklists, and support strategies for you — and your precious future. Join our tribe and stay connected.

Frequently Asked Questions about Divorce

The Top 5 Frequently Asked Questions About Divorce

One of the most daunting parts of a divorce is not knowing – not knowing the answers to questions, not knowing the steps to take, not knowing what to do first, and surely, not knowing the big and small outcomes of your every move. This article will review five common or frequently asked questions about divorce. And in response to those questions, we’ll give you a quick answer that helps manage your expectations and also, lets you hit the ground running. 

1. How long will it take for me to get a divorce? 

Frequently asked questions about timelines are often at the forefront for those eager to get out of their marriage. From a legal perspective – and from a bird’s eye view – the divorce process goes like this: 

  • Filing a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage 
  • Financial disclosure and discovery 
  • Dispute any issues you and your Soon-to-Be-Ex may have 
  • Drafting Divorce Agreement Papers 
  • Judgment for Dissolution of Marriage gets granted 

Those are the primary steps in any divorce case. If you and your spouse* are in agreement with everything (splitting up marital assets, debt, custody, maintenance, etc.), you can pretty much skip steps 2 and 3 and go straight to drafting the divorce agreement with your lawyer. 

SAS Tip: Even if you think you and your spouse are in agreement with the splitting of assets and debt, and how the children will be cared for, it is ALWAYS a good idea to get a private legal consultation to hear what your rights are and what you are entitled to before you commit. Another level of due diligence is to meet with a certified divorce financial analyst for a financial consultation to divorce and to drill down on what would be the best way for you to split things. Economically, it is harder for women after divorce.

What affects the duration of the divorce process?

Because frequently asked questions about the divorce process duration have so many different answers, here’s a run-down. If you and your spouse do not agree on everything, your attorneys will attempt to negotiate a deal and ask you for some financial documents so that they can figure out what is an equitable distribution or resolution. After this, documents signed by both parties will be presented to the judge. The judge will then enter a divorce judgment that states you and your Ex are divorced. 

You will always have the option to get a judge involved if you and your spouse cannot come to an agreement about a part of your divorce agreement. This could be a trial but more likely, you will have a hearing, which is much shorter and only focused on a specific issue. Involving a judge is a longer and more expensive process, but also know that less than 10 percent of divorce cases in the United States go to a full-blown trial. A trial is useful if the settlement proposal you receive is not something you would agree with. 

So overall, how long your divorce takes really is dependent on the situation. You may be in total agreement with your spouse and can get in and out of the process in a month. Sometimes, however, with more complicated situations, the process can be lengthier. Your attorney can probably give you an estimate.

If you are actually asking, how long does it take to get over a divorce? Ah, that is a different question entirely.

2. How will our property be divided?

Most states equitably divide the marital assets you and your spouse acquired during your marriage. (To know for sure about your state, check out “Divorce Property Division: Community Property States vs. Equitable Distribution States.

The first step in dividing property is figuring out what you have, and the value of everything. Then, your attorney figures out what you and your spouse jointly own. Anything jointly owned goes into the “marital estate” and everything in that marital estate is divided equitably. Of course, you can make agreements with your Ex about how you want to divide your assets, and the court will usually honor such settlement agreements. A common example of this is if you and your spouse own a house, and one of you wants to buy out the other. You and your attorney will put language in your divorce agreement about that, and the judge will most likely find this to be a sufficient agreement. 

Keep in mind that debt acts the same way as assets – and is dependent on whether you live in an equitable distribution state or a community property state.  For example, if you live in an equitable distribution state, and you have a student loan or debt on a credit card that is in your name, then that debt is considered personal property and is not divided between you and your spouse. If you live in a community property state, the debt is considered marital debt.  So where you live matters.

3. Will I receive child support and/or spousal support? 

Again, it depends! First and foremost, child support and maintenance are two separate areas of financial support and are determined separately. Spousal support or maintenance, previously known as alimony, is support so that you and your Soon-to-Be-Spouse can maintain the standard of living you had during the marriage. Child support covers the everyday costs of children.

You can receive maintenance, child support, or both depending on the circumstances. If you are the custodial parent (your children reside primarily with you), you will most likely receive monthly child support. Child support is supposed to cover the basic necessities of the children – like food, clothing, and shelter. You can modify child support at any time after your divorce is finalized too. 

SAS Tip: Try to forecast what you will need in the future for yourself and your children so you negotiate for it in the divorce document rather than later. It costs money in legal fees and time to go back and revisit a divorce document!

Frequently Asked Questions About Divorce and Maintenance

If you make less money than your Ex, you will most likely receive maintenance. Keep in mind, however, that maintenance is a factor test, and not every divorce warrants maintenance. Maintenance can also be modified after your divorce proceeding. You can also waive maintenance, meaning that you do not even want to ask your Ex for spousal support at any time now or in the future – but you may ask for something else as part of your divorce negotiation.

SAS TIP: Be prepared. If you are a Stay-At-Home-Mom, discover more must-knows by reading “How to Prepare for Divorce if You are a Stay-At-Home-Mom.” If you make more money than your spouse, check out “Breadwinning Women Face an Uphill Battle When Marrying and Divorcing.”

4. What about our kids?   

Depending on the state you live in, child support and college tuition can be ordered until a child reaches the age of 21. With issues concerning custody and visitation, however, the young person is considered an adult when they turn 18. 

So, when it comes to custody or visitation, courts only deal with minor children (children who are not emancipated and/or under 18) during a divorce. If you and the father of your children cannot agree on a fair custody or visitation schedule, the Courts will determine the time each parent spends with the child, and who gets to make decisions on the child’s behalf. 

Custody Considerations

For custody, the first issue, you and your spouse will come up with a parenting schedule. This can be a complete 50/50 split of parenting time, or you can have most of the parenting time with your Ex having strict visitation limits. If you and your spouse can negotiate this directly or with the help of your lawyers, all the better. Left to the Courts, the Courts will determine the custody schedule based on the best interest of the child. It’s important to know that in most states, the Courts will lean on you and your spouse having equal time/custody of your children, so 50/50.

The decision-making portion goes primarily the same way. You and your spouse can have joint decision-making, meaning that you two have to agree on big decisions in the child’s life, or you can have sole-decision making. The courts again focus on what is in the best interest of the child.

If you wonder how the children will survive the divorce, please read this piece to help guide your behavior and promote your best decisions.  “Will the Kids Be All Right? Long Term Effects of Divorce on Children.”

5. What does a judge consider during my divorce? 

These are frequently asked questions for a reason: the answers really matter. Your judge affects the outcome of your divorce! Most states have a “no-fault” divorce rule. This means the judge or the state does not care whose fault it was that the divorce is happening. Make sure you understand the difference between No-Fault and Fault Divorce.

If you go to court, a judge will look at the facts of your case, and try to make sure that there is a fair division of property (per your state’s divorce laws) and that the children’s best interests are followed. 

Your judge will take all of the facts presented into account, and figure out, based on your specific situation, what is a fair divorce agreement to come to. Make sure that if you are going to trial, or have to argue any part of your divorce in front of a judge, that your attorney knows exactly what you want and what you would and would not agree to. Transparency is the best tactic with your lawyer so that they can properly advocate for your wants and needs in front of the judge. 

Conclusion

Be kind to yourself. It’s natural that you may have some of these frequently asked questions when it comes to the topic of divorce. In fact, even as your progress through the divorce process, the questions never stop coming. 

If you are like a lot of people, chances are you just want to “get it done,” but we urge you: please be mindful of your future and the future of your children. Do not simply get things done, rush, or push through without doing due diligence in finding out what would be the best step for you personally, legally, and financially as a woman.  Read our “55 Must-Do’s on Your Modern Divorce Checklist,” so you take control, smartly and healthily. Remember: even if we answered your frequently asked questions, you’ll still want expert advice customized to your situation.

We wish you good luck and are always here for you.

About the Author

Alexa Valenzisi is a rising 3L student in Chicago who is committed to child law and education law. She aims to work in education law or family law after graduation. 

Notes

Whether you are thinking about divorce, looking for answers to your frequently asked questions, or 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 oftentimes complicated experience of breaking up and reinventing. 

To all women, SAS offers six free months of email coaching, action plans, checklists, and support strategies for you—and your precious future. Join our tribe and stay connected.

* At SAS, we support same-sex marriages. For the sake of ease, we may refer to your spouse or Ex as “he/him” but we understand that exes come with many gender identities. 

divorce laws

Divorce Laws in the United States: Then and Now

While divorce today has become rather common, it was once considered a taboo practice—prohibited by law in much of recorded history. And while there were some exceptions to this ancient rule, divorces were very rare and difficult to obtain—especially for women. Let’s take a look at divorce laws in the United States in particular, and how these laws have changed over time.

Colonial Divorce Law 

One of the first documents of divorce law in North America originates in the Colony of Massachusetts Bay. Here, the colonists established a judicial tribunal to rule on divorce proceedings. As mentioned earlier, divorces during this time period were rare, and for the most part, illegal; however, the judicial tribunal allowed for some exceptions and granted divorces in cases of adultery, desertion, bigamy, and impotence.

In fact, Annie’s Group®, SAS for Women’s signature group coaching program for women thinking about or beginning a divorce, is named after Anne Clarke, a resident of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, who, on January 5, 1643, was granted the first recorded legal divorce in the American colonies by the Quarter Court of Boston. In Anne’s case, she was granted a divorce on the grounds of adultery—committed by her ex-husband, Dennis Clarke. He even admitted to the adultery in a signed affidavit, stating that he abandoned his wife and two children, for another woman (whom he also had two children with). Accordingly, one might say that the betrayal of infidelity is rooted in American history. 

The women of colonial times endured even further hardships in the case of divorce. Before the Married Women’s Property Acts were passed in 1848, married women had virtually no legal rights—to own property, acquire financial assets, or even form binding contracts. Such severe consequences made the practice of divorce utterly unfeasible for women. While the Married Women’s Property Acts went to correct some of these adversities, women remained notoriously disadvantaged in divorce proceedings for quite some time.

The Rise of Divorce

At the end of the 18th century, “divorce mill” states began to surface around the nation. These were states that allowed divorces—including for out-of-state couples. This in turn led to such increases in divorce cases that Congress compiled the first set of divorce statistics in 1887, while elsewhere, there were additional, social reactions. 

In 1903, the Inter-Church Conference on Marriage and Divorce was held due to a concern about the growing number of divorce cases in the U.S. However, the Conference’s efforts were unsuccessful as the sentiment toward divorce began to shift in favor of the practice. The concept of “trial marriages” also emerged in the 1920s, which allowed couples to try their marriage—without the legal implications of actually being married. Ultimately, trial marriages signified another failed attempt in history to reduce the number of divorces in the U.S.

Surprisingly, up until the 1950s, all divorces were tried through the traditional court system. However, as divorce rates in the U.S. began to rise, this began to burden the efficiency of the court system. In response, the Family Court system was created to specifically handle divorces and other family law-related matters.  

The Rise of No-Fault Divorces

However, possibly the most notable change in divorce law occurred in the 1970s—with the enactment of no-fault divorce laws. 

Before this, a spouse had to be at fault in order for a divorce to be granted. By this, I mean that the filing spouse needed a legitimate reason—and evidence of it—to effectively end the marriage (and, being unhappy didn’t count for one). Luckily though, that all began to change when California signed the first no-fault divorce bill in 1969, and finally, spouses no longer needed to show cause to file for divorce. One by one, each state followed California’s lead and no-fault divorces became the new legal standard in America.  

Divorce Laws Today

All these historic changes in divorce law, often reflecting the growing rights of women in the U.S., have led us to the divorce system we know today. 

Divorce laws vary from state to state in the United States, but all states have adopted some form of no-fault divorce legislation—with the stigma surrounding divorce ceasing to exist—at least legally. While there are no longer any legal restraints to filing for divorce in the United States, this is not to say that the process has gotten substantially easier. The decision alone remains a difficult one—especially in cases with children involved, while the cost of getting a divorce (and rebuilding afterward) has also increased. For more on this, consider reading “How Much Will My Divorce Cost Me – Emotionally and Legally?” and/or watch “Should You or Shouldn’t You Divorce?”

Clearly, divorce laws in the U.S. have come a long way since the colonial era, but only time will tell how divorce laws will evolve in the years to come. We hope to see advancements with the rights of women and not more setbacks; and with more advancement of women’s rights, more advancements with divorce laws that will address the current flaws in our divorce system—while continuing to support a fair and equal process for both parties.

Notes

Jayne Cleary is a second-year law student in New York committed to helping educate and improve the lives of families in her community. 

Since 2012, SAS for Women has been 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 to Find a Good Divorce Lawyer

How to Find a Good Divorce Lawyer

Getting a divorce can be a lonely, overwhelming process. Navigating it alone can make it even more frightening. If you, like a lot of women, experienced a power challenge in your marriage (perhaps your spouse handled all the finances, or was a bully, or hid things, or lied), these are still more reasons why you might choose to hire a divorce lawyer to help you navigate the legal process. A good divorce attorney, advocating just for you, can make you feel less alone and even change the outcome of your divorce.

This article will provide you with suggestions and advice on how to find a good divorce lawyer to fit your story and your unique needs.

1. Identify Your Needs

Your ultimate goal is to get divorced. However, while you begin your search for a divorce attorney, you must know precisely what you want out of your divorce. Different family law attorneys might specialize in various family law subject areas. Is child custody the most crucial issue to you? Do you and your spouse own a house together? Or is it a new marriage with little to no property to divide? Perhaps you are looking to pursue a legal separation or a postnup? These are all areas that an attorney might specialize in, and knowing what is most important to you will allow you to hire the right attorney for your situation and choose the right type of divorce model.

For your information, in general, there are four types of divorces: DIY (or Do-It-Yourself, for Uncontested Divorces), the Traditional Model (for Uncontested or Contested divorces), Mediation (for Uncontested Divorces), and the Collaborative Model (for Uncontested Divorces).

To understand more we encourage you to read “The 4 Types of Divorce and How to Know Which One’s Right for You.”

And make sure you understand the difference between a Contested and Uncontested Divorce.

Divorce Complexity

Another factor to consider is the complexity of your divorce. The nature of the relationship between you and your spouse can lead to what kind of attorney you might want.

Like subject areas, different lawyers can specialize in various types of representation. You might consider a lawyer who does mediation if the power is equally shared between you and your spouses (i.e. both of you understand your finances, and there is no abuse or hiding of information or deception in your relationship.) If you have children and want to focus on coparenting, you might want a lawyer focused on an amicable divorce, or a collaborative divorce. If you know your divorce will be highly contentious and likely go to trial, you might select a lawyer who is both a good negotiator (so you settle out of court) but who also has lots of courtroom experience in case you need to go there.

Knowing what you need in your situation and what type of personality your spouse is, will ensure you go into your lawyer search in a more defined way.

SAS Tip: We suggest that all women, no matter their circumstances, consult with a Traditional Divorce attorney first. Hearing what your rights are, what you are entitled to as an individual woman/wife/mother, and discussing the biggest issues in your story will help you decide which type of divorce would be right for you. This will better advance your understanding of your particular needs before you elect for mediation or a collaborative divorce (a particular type of divorce model). 

2. Gather Referrals

One way to research potential lawyers is by seeking out referrals. There are two popular types of referrals: social and professional.

Social referrals come from friends and family members who might have gone through the divorce process. Having someone you know and respect vouch for a particular lawyer can be comforting. Plus, they might have some insight on how to find a good divorce lawyer. However, with social referrals, be mindful of your situation versus the referring friend’s situation. This is your divorce, and you may have different goals from a friend or family member who just went through the process. Additionally, you should be mindful of a friend or acquaintance who might not be in the headspace to share her thoughts on her attorney objectively but instead uses your query as an avenue to rehash her grievances.

The other way a referral might work is through a professional referral. This is when a professional you trust refers you to a family law attorney they might know and respect. Professionals often work together closely and appreciate other professionals, so a trusted doctor, accountant, or therapist might be able to assist you in finding a good divorce lawyer.

SAS TIP: Always ask your referral source if they know the name and number of at least three potential divorce lawyers because one lawyer might be retired, not taking new clients, out of your price range, etc.; if so, you still have other options.

Other professionals might also refer you to professional lawyer organizations. Organizations like the American Academy of Matrimonial Attorneys, the American Bar Association, your state’s and city’s bar association, and local legal aid centers can refer you to individual attorneys. This may give you a starting point for the search process.

If you are just getting your ducks in a row as you contemplate divorce, learn what other healthy steps you could be taking and read 36 Things to Do If You Are Thinking About Divorce.

3. Do Your Research

Divorce laws vary from state to state. When looking for a divorce lawyer, you’ll want to talk to one in your state of residence. What’s more, search for one in your general vicinity so it’s easier to connect with them ongoing if you need. You can do this by searching by city, county, and state. A regional search will allow you to view qualified attorneys in the area before deciding on a few to contact. Searching for attorneys, or vetting the names you’ve been given online also allows for the possibility of reading reviews and testimonies by previous clients.

SAS Tip: If you are really interested in a lawyer, you might consider asking the attorney for peer or client referrals if you cannot easily find reviews. You want to ensure that your lawyer is known for professionalism and experience in the field – and hearing from those who’ve had firsthand experience with them can give you vital insight. 

4. Set Up Interviews

After you have set your goals, researched potential attorneys, and talked to the safe and appropriate people in your life, it is time to set up a meeting with potential attorneys. Make sure you prepare for each meeting. Read our “Questions to Ask a Divorce Attorney at a Consultation” to know what to bring into that meeting, what questions to ask, and how to make the most of your time, getting critical information and the education you need, and deserve.

SAS TIP: Some attorneys offer free consultations before hiring them. So, make sure to check out their websites to see if free consultations exist and for how long the consultation is. If it’s only 30 minutes, you’ll need more time. And by the way, free consultations are not always the norm, so consider consultation costs when considering legal expenses.

As a result of the pandemic, many lawyers these days will conduct your consultation via Zoom if you wish. While that is possible, and very convenient, we find it’s better to meet with one face to face, so you can read their responses and body language better and get a view of their office and its professional atmosphere.

Shop Around

Don’t just jump to hire the first lawyer you meet either. You should aim to talk with at least three lawyers – if you have the resources. This way you have a higher chance of hearing different perspectives on your situation and finding the one that is right for you. Meeting multiple people will help you steer clear of lawyers who attempt to sweet talk you to get you in the door of their practice by claiming they handle divorces when in reality, that is not their practice. (Some lawyers practice several different types of law.

Go for one that is strictly matrimonial or a family law attorney who handles divorce.) Interviewing lawyers in advance can ensure they know how to navigate the family law sphere and that they will not over-complicate the divorce process. Having confidence and trust that your attorney knows the law is crucial to a successful divorce process.

We hear a lot of talk and fear about lawyers’ costs, which is natural, too. But a word to the wise, make sure you understand why it’s not in your interest to look for cheap divorce lawyers.

5. Listen to Red Flags

Attorneys work in the field of business. Sometimes some attorneys only want to make a sale and do not have your interests at heart. Other times you’ll be interviewed by a founding partner of the law firm who does the “intake” but you’ll end up working with another lawyer in the firm. Make sure you ask about that. As well, be careful of lawyers who are willing to tell you anything you want to hear to close the deal. A good attorney can realistically walk you through the divorce process and your best and worst-case scenarios. You’ll want to work with an attorney who is respectful, understanding, a good negotiator, and professional in their work. If they are dismissing your questions, talking down to you, or about other divorce attorneys or clients, there is a high chance they will do the same to you later on.

If you are beginning a divorce, you’ll want to check out this complete collection of “55 Must Do’s On Your Modern Divorce Checklist.”

Additionally, think about your attorney’s ability to communicate. Are they constantly on their phone or email during their consultation in a way that makes you feel devalued? Are they unresponsive to your texts, calls, or emails? They may have too many clients, or not enough administrative help to service their clients well. Or worse, they may not value you or your time and won’t be able to give your case the attention it deserves. You also want to read their disposition in your initial meeting. You don’t want someone condescending or lacking compassion to walk you through one of the most challenging times of your life.

SAS TIP: When women ask us how to find a good divorce lawyer, we say everything we are saying here, and as well, we say trust your gut. If it is telling you there is something off with a lawyer you have just met, it’s likely true.

6. Make Your Choice

Finally, after all your diligent research and vetting, it’s time to choose your lawyer. This decision represents who you are and who will support and fight for you in the divorce. This attorney is a professional and an expert in their field. They make you feel like “they’ve got your back.” Knowing that your lawyer is by your side, fighting for your best interest is important. The right lawyer will walk you through the process and prioritize you and your wellbeing. Choosing the right divorce attorney is an important decision. It is likely a choice that will dictate much of your future life. However, with diligent research, goal setting, vetting, and listening to your gut, you will find someone who is better equipped at supporting you than simply grabbing someone off the internet.

NOTES

Elizabeth Newland is a third-year law student in Chicago who is committed to children and family rights. She aims to work in a family-related non-profit firm after graduation. 

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. (more below)

*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.”

Will my spouse get my IRA in a divorce?

Will My Spouse Get My IRA in a Divorce?

Divorce can have a serious impact on your life and in particular your retirement plan. More often than not, when you go through a divorce, a large percentage of your shared assets include your retirement accounts. This often leads to the question, “Will my spouse get my IRA in a divorce?”

In this article, I will discuss what it looks like to divide IRAs in divorce, and whether you should use your IRA to pay for your divorce. I’ll also discuss smart retirement strategies for women, and importantly, what you should do with your IRA post-divorce.

How Does Divorce Law Divide IRAs?

Unlike 401ks or other qualified plans, IRA accounts are divided under what is called a transfer incident to divorce when a divorce is completed. 

Any financial firm that handles your IRA may do things a little differently, but what’s important is that they will not require a qualified domestic relations order (QDRO).

With your IRA, your divorce will need to be finalized and a divorce decree will be necessary.  The good news is that this is not a taxable transfer because it is part of a divorce settlement.  However, if the receiving spouse decides to withdraw money from the account, this will incur taxes and may incur early withdrawal penalties.        

How much will each spouse receive? It is important to learn whether you live in an “equitable distribution” or “community property” state and what that means for dividing up your retirement accounts. Other factors may come into play such as contributions made to the account during the marriage. If your spouse is willing, you may be able to offer cash or securities in non-retirement accounts instead of giving up a larger part of your IRA. It is important to consult and ask this of your attorney as well as a financial advisor who specializes in divorce, like a certified divorce financial analyst or certified divorce financial planner.


Learn more about divorce property division and equitable distribution or community property laws here.


Should I Use My IRA to Pay for My Divorce?

Paying for a divorce can be incredibly costly and since retirement may seem to be a long time away, it is tempting to withdraw money for legal and other expenses of a divorce. However, you must know, withdrawals from an IRA before the age of 59 ½ may result in a penalty if you don’t qualify for an exception.  

In addition, draining your retirement account could also jeopardize your financial future.  

Make sure you have considered all other avenues before using your IRA for legal fees. IRAs are tax-advantaged accounts that can help your savings grow and your investments can compound over time. Depleting these types of accounts too early can have a huge impact on what you are able to accumulate over the long term.  


If you are dealing with divorce you’ll want to know how to structure and sequence the many To-Do’s facing you. Check out “The 55 Must Do’s on Your Modern Divorce Checklist.


Retirement Saving Strategies for Women

Women face various and unique challenges that can seriously affect their ability to save and invest along the way. First, women on average remain the primary caregivers for children or aging family members and therefore move in and out of these roles throughout their lifetimes.

Second, women tend to lean toward a more conservative approach to investing which can limit the growth of their wealth over time. Because of the gender pay gap, women are not able to contribute as much on average to their retirement accounts which results in lower wealth over time. Finally, women’s lifespans are increasing along with the costs of healthcare which means their dollars need to stretch longer than they have in the past.  

Here are a few strategies that women can use to combat some of these issues:

  • Contribute as much as possible to employer-sponsored retirement plans while working.
  • If you do not have a retirement plan through work but have earned income consider opening an IRA and maximizing contributions.
  • If self-employed, even part-time, consider a SEP IRA
  • Participate in a Spousal IRA (if eligible)
  • Create a budget and make sure you are staying on track.
  • Work with a financial advisor to help you find the appropriate mix of investments to help you achieve your long-term goals.
  • Consider rolling over any 401(k) or other employer-sponsored retirement plans from previous employers into an IRA for more investment choices and streamlined account management.  

To understand more about what women face when dealing with divorce, consider reading “What Divorce Does to a Woman.”


Your IRA Post Divorce

After the accounts are divided and your divorce is complete, the first thing you should do is review your beneficiary designation. It is all too common for an Ex to be left as a beneficiary on an account long after a divorce has been finalized. While your assets outside of your retirement accounts will pass to your beneficiaries based on what you specify in your will, a retirement account will pass to the designated beneficiary on file at the brokerage firm that holds your IRA.  

Seek Advice from a Financial Professional

Before and during your divorce it is smart to consult with a financial advisor to make sure you optimize your best financial situation for the splitting of assets. And certainly, after you finalize your divorce, it is important to seek the advice of a financial professional who can help you understand your new priorities and work with you to achieve your desired retirement lifestyle. 

Everyone faces similar challenges when creating a long-term retirement plan, however as mentioned earlier, women often juggle multiple roles both at home and at work, they tend to lean toward a more conservative investment approach and on average have a longer life span than men. All of these factors make planning for your retirement more important and more complicated than ever.    

Notes:

Christine Healy is a Senior Financial Advisor and Resident Director with Merrill Lynch.  Licensed in all states, she holds the Certified Divorce Financial Analyst® Designation and dedicates a portion of her practice to guiding individuals through the financial implication of divorce. Licensed in all states, you can contact Christine here to support your needs and goals as a woman dedicated to rebuilding your best life after divorce.

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.

*To learn what a divorce decree is, read here.

Divorce papers by Graham for Unsplash

Divorce Papers: What the Heck Are They?

While no two divorces are exactly alike, one aspect always stays the same: the paperwork. You hear the term “divorce papers” casually thrown around all the time in movies, TV shows, or by gossipy neighbors. But what actually are divorce papers?

It is tricky to know exactly what they are because it is such a broad term. They technically refer to all the papers needed for the divorce process. The actual number of documents included in the complete paperwork varies from couple to couple. However, four primary papers almost always accompany the divorce: the petition, the summons, the answer, and the judgment. 

Paper #1: Starting the Divorce Petition

First things first, someone needs to begin the divorce process. The petition is the first step in the divorce. This means that one spouse needs to officially ask a court to end their marriage. This is the legal step that sometimes follows a separation. So, if you are the person initiating the process, you will fill out a form called a petition (sometimes called a “petition for dissolution of marriage” or the “complaint”). This form varies from state to state and can sometimes be found online or in person at the court.

In some states, the complaint is not a standard form, but an individualized statement. The petition has general information about both spouses and the length of the marriage. This is your first chance to indicate what you want from the judge. In this first form, you might be required to list out any community or separate property and how you would ideally split it. However, just because you indicate this is how you want to split it, it might not be divided as so. If children are involved, the spouse starting the divorce process will need to indicate what they would ideally want in terms of custody and care. When this form is finished, it is turned in or “filed” with the court, and you need to give a copy to your spouse. This divorce paper filing is the first step in the divorce process.


If you’re not ready for divorce papers but are contemplating separation or divorce, 

you might want to start here: “36 Things to Do If You are Thinking About Divorce”.


Paper #2: Informing the Other Person – The Summons and Service

Now, as lovely as it would be to go through the entire process without your spouse, legally, they need to know that you have filed for a divorce. They learn that you have filed for divorce through the service of the divorce paperwork. 

“Service” is when someone (every state has different laws on who this person can be) gives your spouse the first divorce papers. 

The service aspect of divorce is often a dramatic or awkward plot point in the media, with someone providing the protagonist with the divorce papers at a very inconvenient time. Regardless of how it gets there, your petition must make it to your spouse to give them notice and allow them to participate in the process.

If you’ve been the ONE hit with divorce papers, check out “What to Do When You Get Served with Divorce Papers.”

There are generally two papers being served, the petition and a summons. The summons tells the other person that you have filed a divorce and usually tells them what they need to do next and how long they have to do it. This might include the amount of time they have to respond if there is a preliminary court hearing and general directions for the process. Every state has different rules regarding the summons and court process. 


Do you ever wonder who else in the world could be thinking “divorce”? 

Read “What Percentage of Marriages End in Divorce?” to understand more about the nuances of the question and to realize, you’re not alone.


Paper #3: Responding – The Answer

After your spouse is served with the initial paperwork, it’s time for them to ask the court for what they want. There are two main ways an answer can happen. The first is that your spouse just doesn’t respond to the petition and summons. This means that they have chosen to stay out of the divorce process, and you will skip right to a “default judgment.” A default judgment is when the judge will finalize the process based on the petition.

The other option is for your spouse to participate in the case and fill out and file an answer. The answer is a written response to the petition. It tells the court exactly what they want out of the proceeding. The answer will either agree or disagree with the terms set out in the petition. Some states require an appearance form along with the answer. This tells you and the court that your spouse is taking part in the court case and that they want to go to court (think of it as the counterpart to the summons).

Like the petition, the answer and appearance forms must be filed with the court clerk, either in person, online, or by mail, and served to the other person. You must know what your spouse intends to argue for in the negotiation or court process.

Paper #4: The Final Decision, The Last Step, The Judgment 

After the long process of papers, negotiation, and stress, all you want is for the divorce to be done and over with. However, a divorce is not finalized until the judge gives the final order, called a judgment. 

This final judgment follows some form of discussion (whether it is a contested or uncontested divorce) about what each person will get from the divorce. Judges, lawyers, and most people prefer to keep divorces out of the courtroom, so they will often explore other negotiation options, like mediation and arbitration, before going to court.

Official Decision by the Court

After the couple has come to some form of an agreement, a judge must give the court’s official decision that officially grants the divorce.  This is most often done with lawyers or a mediator submitting the divorce draft agreement to the court for the court to then review and stamp (usually) with approval.

We recommend that every woman, no matter how she divorces, seek a private consultation with a divorce attorney. Learn your rights and what you are entitled to (even if you elect for DIY divorce) before you start splitting things up. (Yes, no matter what your spouse says.) We’re not saying spend a bundle, but you’ll want to know why you don’t want to search for cheap divorce lawyers in the process.

This final judgment or divorce judgment is the final paper in the divorce paper repertoire. However, like all aspects of life and divorce, it is not always so straightforward. After the judgment, there is always the option of modifying the terms of your divorce by a court order. You might want to modify aspects like property division, debt division, or alimony. In order to change a final ruling in a divorce, there generally needs to be some substantial change of circumstances. This can include: a job loss, one spouse has remarried, or one spouse is earning significantly more than they were at the time of the divorce.

Paper #5: Other Common Papers

Every divorce is different, so they will all have different papers that come with them. These can include property division forms, more complicated child custody or visitation forms, or alimony/marital maintenance forms. Every state has a different procedure and might have other forms accompanying a standard divorce. 

Conclusion

Divorces are full of complex paperwork. It is important to keep track of them and stay organized and informed on the different papers needed to complete a divorce in your state. This is key to making the process go as smoothly as possible. 

Notes

Elizabeth Newland is a third-year law student in Chicago who is committed to children and family rights. She aims to work in a family-related non-profit firm after graduation. 


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