When a relationship deteriorates and ends on an emotional and physical level, the legal ending of the marriage is divorce. This is a complex process that requires a legal reason to end your partnership. It also considers all the other relevant factors, including child custody, support, and division of assets. In almost all divorce cases, both parties require legal assistance from a family law attorney. He or she will ensure that your needs are met and that documentation is filed properly. This is the basic process, though your experience may be different.
Consult an Attorney
Often the best first step is to consult a family law attorney. He or she can guide you through the entire process. In rare cases when both parties agree to all terms of the divorce, you may choose to represent yourself. However, due to the emotional element involved, few divorces are simple. You will likely need an attorney at some point; so working with one from the beginning can be beneficial. If financial concerns are an issue, speak with your attorney upfront or find one who may be willing to represent you without a retainer. In some cases, your attorney may be allowed to collect fees from your spouse.
Write a Separation Agreement
A Separation Agreement is a document that specifies how the matters of your divorce will be handled. This can include child custody, visitation, and support. It may also specify the division of assets, including the marital home, and spousal support. A separation agreement must be signed by both spouses to be considered valid in court. You cannot be forced to sign an agreement and if you signed under duress, the court may consider it invalid. Your attorney can advise you on this matter.
File a Complaint about Divorce
The divorce proceedings begin when one spouse files a Complaint about Divorce or similar paperwork with the appropriate local court. This will include the grounds for divorce and additional concerns, such as when abuse is involved. The clerk will provide you with documentation of this action. The sheriff will deliver the legal paperwork to your spouse. This constitutes a summons that requires both of you to attend a court hearing. Prior to the hearing, there may be pre-trial meetings to discuss temporary orders.
Attend a Court Hearing
The final details are put into writing during the court hearing. Many of the decisions, such as child custody, may already have been determined in pre-trial meetings. Unless the divorce is contested, the court hearing itself may be relatively short. It is generally in both parties’ favor to work out issues in advance.
The most challenging aspect of a divorce is often the emotional one. The reasons for choosing to divorce are many and you will benefit from counseling. You may choose to attend counseling with your spouse, but for individuals, this is also highly beneficial. If you and your spouse cannot get along and children are involved, sometimes attending counseling together can help you reach a compromise.