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.
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.
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.
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* 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.