If you are facing a divorce or know you will be entering into one soon, you likely have many questions, concerns, and worries about how the process will go. You should understand from the start that it is normal to feel anxious and unsure. You should also understand that it is okay to ask any and all questions you may have.
You may wish to write down your concerns and then bring them with you as you meet with attorneys. You might also speak with friends or family who have gone through divorce. This article seeks to address some of the most common concerns of individuals going through a divorce. Be advised that your attorneys are there to help every step of the way. No question should be considered irreverent or off-limits.
Next to the wellbeing of their children, those entering divorce are concerned about the costs associated with getting a divorce. You may be asking:
• How much does divorce cost?
• What if I hire a lawyer?
• How much is separation compared to divorce?
• What if both parties agree (uncontested divorce)?
To start, there is no such thing as an average divorce cost, as it depends on which method of divorce you are using. Other factors affecting the cost of divorce include where you are divorcing, if you are using a lawyer for the whole divorce or just part of it, if you have kids, if you’re using mediation or collaborative divorce, and whether or not you need to go to trial. There are other factors as well.
When it comes to hiring a lawyer, you will likely be charged by hour. However, fees vary depending on where you live. A divorce lawyer in Los Angeles will certainly charge more than a divorce lawyer in Topeka, Kansas. The hourly rates may vary from a few hundred to $500 per hour. Some attorneys may charge a flat fee.
If you hire a lawyer to only review documents, you can cut thousands from the total cost of your divorce. Lawyers charge for phone calls, court preparation, and legal research, among other things. If in doubt, hire a lawyer to ensure you get a fair look at everything your soon-to-be-ex spouse is proposing. You want to make sure you are treated fairly and all divisions are made in a way that suits both sides.
If you think legal separation is a way for you to save money, think again. Legal separation often costs the same as a divorce. Speak with your attorney to see if being separated is advantageous to you, or if your state requires a legal separation prior to divorce.
The most important part of any parent’s life is their children, and parents often worry about their children’s emotional and physical health when divorce happens. If you are a parent, you likely have some concerns about how to help your kids cope, as well as custody concerns.
In discussing the divorce with your kids, you will want to do it in an age appropriate manner. Very young babies and children (ages 0-5) need to be given short, simple explanations. Babies, for example, do not understand language, but they will understand the energy of the household shifting from a place of love to a place of tension. Toddlers and preschool age children need to be reminded often how loved they are, and how often they will see each parent. It is best to set and keep a routine so children this age feel secure and safe and are able to predict their days.
For older kids, aged 6-11, keep routines stable and predictable. Listen and respond to their feelings, since they are able to talk about how they feel at this age. Explain that what happened has nothing to do with them. Many kids this age feel that if they hadn’t done X, mom and dad might still be together. You might also bring in books or other resources that help deal with divorce.
For teens age 12 and up, keep communication open. Kids this age often act as though they are beyond reach, but need and crave love and connections with their parents. Watch for behavioral changes or trouble at school, and make sure to connect with your child daily about what he or she is thinking or feeling. It is important to make them feel loved and special.
Aside from how to handle your kids’ feelings, you may wonder what factors play into who gets custody of a child. Some of these include:
• The strength of the parent-child relationship,
• Age and health of the child and their parents,
• The child’s connections to school and community,
• Any abuse or domestic violence history/evidence
There are several other factors that affect the custody outcome, and depending on the circumstances of your particular case, the court may award sole custody or even shared custody. Some states prefer that one parent has primary custody of the child; others favor joint/shared custody.
Who is more likely to be granted custody is not a clear-cut answer, either. In the past, mothers were often granted custody, but modern laws do not favor one parent over the other. If you would like sole custody of your child, do not assume that his or her mother will be the automatic winner. Petition the court, regardless of your gender, to get a fair chance at sole custody.
Another concern parents have regarding their child is the surname. Some parents wish to change their child’s name to match their surname. This cannot be done without a court order. In some cases, parents will mutually agree to change the name. If your soon-to-be-ex does not object to the name change, it is likely your request will be approved. If the other parent does object, you must be able to show that the name change will benefit the child. For example, if a last name were to cause significant embarrassment or harassment, it is likely your request will be approved.
Those entering divorce are often concerned about how property will be divided. If you own rental or investment properties with your spouse, or possess a stock portfolio or other assets, your concern is likely high that the division will be fair.
Equitable distribution of property is the process of dividing up your marital and divisible properties within the court. If it were a perfect world, you and your spouse would negotiate the division of property without involvement from a judge. Because cooperation is not always easy for divorcing couples, a court steps in and schedules a hearing that helps divide marital property using equitable distribution. This includes your assets and debts.
The theory of equitable distribution is a 50/50 split between yourself and your spouse, unless a split would be unfair or inequitable. A judge will assess the fairness of a split by considering a series of details. Some of these include, but are not limited to:
• Each spouse’s debts, income, and property
• The length of the marriage and age of spouses
• Tax consequences related to property division
• Physical and mental health of each spouse
• Any other “just and proper” factors
It is important to note that the court will not consider any alimony or child support payments when dividing up marital property.
Perhaps the biggest concern is the marital home above all other properties. In other words, who gets your home? If you have children who are minors or dependent, the parent who is awarded primary physical custody may get to stay in the home. That spouse will, however, need to consider whether or not they can afford to pay the mortgage on that home as well as shoulder other costs that come with living in that space, like repairs or general maintenance. It may be best for both parties to sell the home and divide the money received from the sale.
If a spouse’s behavior was the cause for your divorce, it may have an impact upon your divorce proceedings, depending on your state. In the state of North Carolina, for example, a cheating spouse does not mean the spouse who got cheated on gets to keep the house. However, the same state will not grant alimony to the spouse who engaged in adultery (cheating, having an affair) during the marriage. Check with your legal counsel to see what your state’s laws are.
Types of Divorce
Someone who has never been divorced may imagine the process to be what they’ve seen in television shows, movies, or books. A common perception of divorce is two angry people embroiled in an intense legal battle filled with court dates. This is not usually the case. There are other methods of divorce you and your spouse can use as a means of dissolving your marriage.
You absolutely do not have to go to court for an extended time period during this divorce. However, it is not unavoidable completely. Even if your divorce is uncontested (meaning, there are no disagreements), you will need to attend a hearing before a judge or other official. This may happen in a courtroom or an office. Sometimes, both parties must attend; other times, only you will have to come. If you and your spouse have signed a settlement agreement, the hearing may take less than 30 minutes. It will largely be to ensure all paperwork is in order as the process toward finalization continues.
Some couples choose to get their divorce finalized by way of mediation. This procedure is a much less expensive method of divorce. You and your spouse hire a neutral third party along with your lawyers, called a mediator, to meet with you as a way of resolving issues and provide help in making decisions in your divorce. The sessions you spend with the mediator are private, and a lawyer can still offer you legal advice as the process goes on. Instead of the courts having the final say, you and your spouse control all outcomes. This process is powerful and can help improve communication between you and your soon-to-be-ex, making for easier interaction in the future. This method is not for everyone, however. For example, if domestic violence is present in your relationship, it is advised you carefully consider this method before agreeing to partake in it.
Collaborative divorce is another alternative method of dispute resolution. With this method, each party hires their own lawyer. The role of each lawyer is to try his or her best to reach a marital settlement agreement. This situation may include a third lawyer who serves as a facilitator. Any lawyer who serves as a collaborative lawyer for a party may not represent that party in court if an agreement cannot be reached. A few states allow for an informal collaborative procedure, which may save you money if you reach an agreement. If you cannot reach an agreement, the cost of divorce may increase.
This guide has provided a brief look at some of the top questions from individuals entering divorce. As you go through this process, it is important to keep a few things in mind. Remember that it is okay to feel nervous, afraid, or anxious, as many people often do. It is also okay to feel concerned about the safety and wellbeing of your children. However, do not let these emotions control you or affect your ability to make solid decisions. Speak with your lawyers and other members of your legal team to get the best answers that fit your specific situation. Arming yourself with knowledge is the best way to come out on top – and do not be afraid to ask any questions to those assisting you with completion of the divorce.