What To Do When You've Decided It's Time To Get A Divorce?


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The decision to end a marriage can be a very complicated one. Emotionally it may be painful, a relief, or a complicated mixture of both sensations. Practically, many things need to take place before the process can be finished and you can begin to move on with your life. So where do you start and who can you turn to for information? How do you know what steps are right for your situation? What other things do you need to consider that you may not even know about?

Getting Information

The first thing you will probably want to do is gather information about what you need to do. There are many places you can turn, but some are more useful than others. Obviously, your best bet would be to contact a qualified, licensed attorney who can help guide you through the process and take a lot of the stress of the process off of your shoulders. An attorney who represents your interests is, by far, the best way to get through the process without any surprises, and a virtual necessity if your former spouse has decided to obtain an attorney to represent his/her interests.

If he/she is represented, trying to handle things on your own could feel like going to take a final exam for a class you forgot you were in and never studied for. Many people believe they cannot afford an attorney in this situation, but given the long term effects of divorce (i.e., division of assets, alimony, child support, tax consequences, etc.), not having an attorney could be far more expensive.

Aside from your attorney, another great source of information is the Clerk of Court for your county. Many Clerk's offices will have form paperwork available that they will either give or sell to you. Clerk's cannot give you legal advice, as only an attorney can do that, so they can only give you limited assistance with choosing the correct paperwork to file. Another good place to check is your local law library (if you have one). Many law schools, bar associations, courthouses, and even some public libraries will have a law library or law section, and the law librarians are often knowledgeable enough about certain topics to be able to point you at the correct books and websites to get more information.

But, again, the law librarians will not be able to give you advice because they are not attorneys.

Taking Action

Now that you know where to get the information you need, it is time to get started. In virtually every jurisdiction in the United States, a formal legal proceeding is required for a divorce. That means you (or better yet, your attorney) will prepare a set of documents to start a lawsuit against your spouse to sever your marriage. There are many technical requirements for properly filing such a lawsuit, from the way your forms are laid out, certain phrases the forms must include, which forms you use, etc., and it is important that these are all done properly or the court may require you to re-file until you get it right or throw out your case all together. You will also need to show that your spouse has received notice of the lawsuit through a procedure called “service of process.”

In many jurisdictions, it is mandatory that couples seeking divorce attend marriage counseling or some other form of alternative dispute resolution before a divorce will be granted by the court. Also, many jurisdictions require each party to file a very thorough affidavit regarding their finances to ensure that assets can be distributed fairly between the spouses.

Here's where things can get really tricky. If both parties are in agreement, the divorce proceedings can be relatively quick and simple. But, given the hard feelings that often come up during a divorce, the number of simple, uncontested divorces are relatively small. This is only more true if there are considerable assets or children involved.

Additional affidavits may be required, the exchange of information through a process called “discovery” may occur, and there might be a number of hearings to work out various issues in the case prior to the court issuing its final judgment dissolving the marriage. This process is far too complicated to try to set out in this article, and it is another reason why you should seek the assistance of a qualified, competent attorney.

After the Divorce

Once you finally get to the end of the process and the court has issued its final judgment, you might think that you are done. In most instances, you have much more to do. You may need to update social security records, driver's license, and other personally identifying information. If there are joint interests, such as insurance policies, bank accounts, credit cards, and so forth, you may have to go through the process of separating these accounts one at a time.

If the divorce was contested, there may be ongoing hearings regarding the distribution of these assets and ongoing issues like payment of alimony. And, of course, if children are involved, disputes regarding support and visitation can resurface for years. Again, it is wise to have an attorney to help usher you through these processes, which can be just as complicated as the divorce itself.

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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.

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