1. Determine the Status of Marital Property in Your StateFirst, find out whether your state is a community property state or a separate property state. If your state is a community property state, then everything you and your soon-to-be ex-spouse own together is presumed to be divided 50-50. If your state is a separate property state, then only those assets acquired during the course of the marriage are presumed to be divided 50-50. Any assets that you brought into the marriage will be excluded from the division pot. Your lawyer can best explain all of the exclusions from the divided marital property in a separate property state. Bear in mind that you must show good cause to deviate from these requirements.
2. Hire a LawyerSecond, hire a lawyer who routinely handles divorces. While you can represent yourself in some cases, divorces have their own quirks and attorneys know how to navigate them. There are filing deadlines and conferences with judges that must be handled. Having a lawyer with you is the best way to make the process go smoothly and to ensure things come out in your favor.
3. Prepare for the Possibility of Alimony, Spousal Support, and Child SupportAlimony, also known as spousal maintenance or spousal support, is paid to the former spouse to supplement the income he or she received from you by being part of the marriage. To determine the amount of support paid, a judge will typically look at the difference between how much you both make. The judge may also consider the income potential of your soon-to-be ex-spouse, which includes education and ability to work, to determine the proper amount.
Child support is completely separate from alimony, and is based only on what’s best for the child. The parent who will be responsible for the majority of the child’s day-to-day care will receive what the judge determines is a fair amount based on the child’s need, both parents' earning potential, and the child's age. Support may be terminated if the spouse remarries, but child support will only be terminated once the child reaches the age of majority, even if the primary caregiving spouse remarries. Be aware of these possible court-ordered payments as you go through the divorce process.
4. Settle Out of Court if You CanPrepare to settle as much as you can out of court. Judges don’t like to have to oversee every disagreement. The more you can settle between you and your ex-spouse, the more care and consideration the judge can give the big issues that really need to be worked out. Your lawyer can help you enter into negotiations with your soon-to-be ex-spouse. In some cases, you may be able to negotiate everything for the final divorce without ever needing to appear in front of the judge, except for the final petition.
5. Fill Out All Paperwork Accurately and Do Not Take ShortcutsFill out all necessary forms, including the Petition for the Dissolution of Marriage, as accurately as possible. Marriages are created by the state, so only the state government can release the marriage. Follow all the requirements for getting a divorce even if they seem like a hassle. This is especially important if there is another relationship already underway. Adultery can still be used to modify alimony or child support payments between the parties. You should expect the negotiations to inform most of the final decision, but you may need to appear in front of a judge with both your and your spouse's requests, allowing the judge to make the final decision. Avoid appearing contentious, regardless of how you feel. Remain professional and allow your lawyer to represent you in the best possible light.
This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.