Read an Excerpt
Divorce For Dummies
By John Ventura
John Wiley & SonsISBN: 0-7645-8417-0
Chapter OneUnderstanding What Divorce Is All About
In This Chapter
* Figuring out your financial future
* Beginning the divorce process
* Knowing the steps in the divorce process * Resolving the basic issues in your divorce
* Figuring out the financial costs of divorce
* Getting through your emotions
The thought that a divorce is in your future may make your stomach churn and cause you to lie awake at night worrying about what the process will be like, especially if your only knowledge of the legal system comes from watching courtroom dramas on TV. Understandably, the prospect of dealing with lawyers, courts, and legal mumbo jumbo may intimidate you.
Like most people in your situation, you're probably also concerned about what the divorce will do to your finances. You may worry about how much you'll have to spend to get divorced and whether after your divorce is final, you'll have to pay every penny you earn on spousal support and/or child support (or whether you'll receive enough spousal support or child support from your spouse). You may also lose sleep wondering about the kind of post-divorce lifestyle you will be able to afford.
And, if you have young children, you probably have worries about how your divorce will affect them. You're right to be concerned because studies show that when parents don't work together to make their children feel safe and tokeep their lives as normal as possible during and after their divorce, the children are apt to suffer emotionally. Studies also show that these same children have difficulty establishing healthy relationships as adults.
But, after you read this book, you should sleep better at night and worry a little less because you'll be armed with the information and advice you need to help you and your children get through your divorce and prepare for life afterward.
This chapter highlights the kinds of pre-divorce planning you should do, provides you with a peak at the divorce process, explains the differences between a fault and a no-fault divorce, helps you calculate the cost of your divorce, and reviews the main money-related issues that you have to resolve in most divorces. In this chapter, we also touch on the emotional aspects of divorce. In addition, we introduce you to some of the professionals you may need to call on to help with your divorce and to the role that mediation and the collaborative law process can play in a divorce.
Considering Whether You Have Cause for Concern
If your marriage is going through tough times, you may find yourself wondering whether it's an example of the "for better or for worse" alluded to in your marriage vows or whether your relationship is truly on the rocks. Although no test exists that can tell you whether your problems are typical reactions to the stress and strain that most marriages experience at one time or another or whether they point to more serious issues, troubled marriages do tend to exhibit many of the same characteristics. How many of the following statements apply to your marriage?
Don't panic if you find that your marriage exhibits some of these characteristics because you're not necessarily headed for divorce court. However, you do have cause for concern; you and your spouse need to assess your options - first separately and then together - and decide what to do next.
Marital problems can trigger depression, feelings of vulnerability, powerlessness, anger, and sleep disturbances, any of which can impede clear thinking and sound decision-making. A mental health professional can help you or your spouse deal with these problems so that you can move forward. If your spouse is struggling emotionally, suggest that he or she get mental health counseling, assuming that you think your spouse will be receptive to advice coming from you given the state of your marriage.
Getting Prepared Financially for a Divorce
Pre-divorce financial planning is essential to minimizing the cost of your divorce and increasing the likelihood that when your divorce is over, you will have a settlement agreement that meets your short- and long-term post-divorce financial needs. (We discuss how to prepare yourself emotionally in the "Surviving the Emotional Roller Coaster" section, later in this chapter, as well as in Chapter 7.) The amount and type of planning you need to do depends on how involved you have been in managing your family's financial life, whether you have a good credit history in your own name, and whether you have maintained a career outside your home during your marriage. See Chapter 3 for advice about evaluating your family's finances.
If your spouse totally surprises you with plans for a divorce, pre-divorce planning may be impossible, especially if you're clueless about your family's finances. If that's the case, your divorce teaches you a painful lesson: That not being an informed and active partner in your family's financial life is risky because you're at an immediate disadvantage if your marriage ends (or if you become widowed).
Ideally, before your divorce begins, you will have
Making It Official
Before your divorce can begin, you must take care of some preliminary divorce matters. For example, you must make certain that you meet the divorce requirements of the state where you want to get divorced. Also, you or your divorce attorney must file legal paperwork with the court to officially set your divorce in motion and you must decide whether you will file a no-fault or fault divorce, assuming fault divorces are permitted in the state where you are divorcing.
If you don't want to live with your spouse anymore, but you don't want to get divorced, either, you and your spouse can separate. You can separate temporarily while you decide what to do about your relationship or you can make your separation permanent and finalize it with a legal separation agreement, which addresses the same kind of issues you would address in a divorce. We discuss the pros and cons of separation in Chapter 4.
Meeting the requirements
To get a divorce, you must meet certain minimum requirements set by your state. Although those requirements vary somewhat from state to state, the most common ones are
You can find out the particular divorce requirements in your state in several ways. You can do an Internet search using key words like "requirements for divorce in [your state]." You can call your local family court, check with your local bar association, or contact a divorce attorney in your area. If any of these resources can't or won't provide you with the information that you're looking for, they should be able to tell you where you can get it.
Filing a divorce petition
No matter what state you live in and regardless of whether you and your spouse agree that ending your marriage is for the best, your divorce begins when one of you files a divorce petition with the court. If you and your spouse have already hired divorce attorneys, one of the attorneys files the divorce petition. (See the later section in this chapter, "Involving a divorce attorney," as well as Chapters 13 and 14, for more information about working with a divorce attorney.) Otherwise, one of you can go to your local courthouse and file a divorce petition yourself.
After someone files a divorce petition, the nonfiling spouse is legally notified about the petition, which usually involves a sheriff or constable hand delivering the notice or the nonfiling spouse receiving it in the mail. The nonfiling spouse isn't served at all if he or she waives notification, which is most likely to occur if both spouses agreed to an amicable divorce and are already familiar with everything in the divorce petition. If the nonfiling spouse disagrees with anything in the petition, such as the grounds for the divorce, the request by the filing spouse for sole custody of the couple's children, and so on, he or she will file an answer with the court, stating his or her side of those issues.
Deciding who's at fault
Depending on the state you live in, if you initiated your divorce, you must decide whether to file a fault or a no-fault divorce. As of this writing, about 70 percent of all states allow couples to get either an old-fashioned fault divorce or a no-fault divorce, which is a kinder, gentler type of divorce.
When you file a fault divorce, you must provide a very specific reason, or grounds, for wanting to end your marriage. In other words, you must accuse your spouse of some sort of unacceptable behavior, such as adultery, physical abuse, mental cruelty, drunkenness, drug addiction, or insanity. Depending on your state, you may also be able to get a fault divorce if your spouse has been in prison for a minimum period of time or has deserted your marriage.
When you allege fault, you must also prove that the grounds actually exist. Proving fault can involve having a friend or relative who witnessed your spouse's bad behavior testify to it, although they may be reluctant to get involved in your divorce, especially if they like your spouse. Or you may need to hire a detective to document your spouse's bad behavior on video. Although a fault divorce can provide the grist for a lurid soap opera, some spouses feel that the drama is worth it because if they can prove that what they allege about their partner is true, they can get a better divorce settlement.
Currently, all states recognize some form of no-fault divorce. If you opt for this kind of divorce, you don't have to prove that your spouse did anything to cause you to seek a divorce. Instead, all you really need to do is acknowledge that things "just didn't work out" between the two of you. Common grounds for obtaining a no-fault divorce include "incompatibility," "irretrievable breakdown," or "irreconcilable differences." Because you don't need to prove fault, this kind of divorce is usually less expensive, quicker to complete, and easier on spouses and their children than most fault divorces. As a result, no-fault divorces are much more frequent than fault divorces.
Excerpted from Divorce For Dummies by John Ventura Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.