There is a lot to consider when you think about pursuing a divorce. Chief among these is determining if you truly want a divorce. It’s normal to have conflicted feelings, and in the end, you may be ready or feel that you want to try to save the marriage. Regardless of the outcome, right now it’s important to educate yourself on the options that are available for you and your children.
Whether you’re angry or depressed, you’ll experience many emotions during this process. It’s important to remember that you shouldn’t make any critical decisions at this point. Right now you’re merely getting educated about the choices you have for your life; it doesn’t mean you’re going to get divorced. You first need to understand how the process works and the options and rights you have so that you come to a sound, informed decision.
State Divorce Laws
Every state has slightly different divorce laws. A reliable source for pertinent information is your county court website. There will most likely be “how-to” guides to help you understand the divorce process where you live. Of course, if and when the time comes to initiate divorce proceedings, you’ll need to enlist the help of an experienced family law attorney.
The Divorce Petition
The initial action in a divorce is filing a petition, which will provide the reasons for the divorce. The specific grounds for divorce vary depending on the state where you live. All states have some kind of “no-fault” grounds for divorce, like “irreconcilable differences” or an “irretrievable breakdown of the marriage.” However, there are only a handful of few states that consider fault grounds for divorce. These grounds include:
- Desertion or abandonment;
- Mental incapacity at the time of the marriage;
- Marriage between close relatives;
- Impotence at the time of the marriage;
- Force or fraud in obtaining the marriage;
- Conviction of a crime or imprisonment;
- Mental or physical abuse;
- Substance abuse or addiction; and
- Mental illness.
It’s important to remember that even where both spouses agree that they want to be divorced, one of them must file a petition with the court asking for the divorce.
What to Do
Get educated. Read through the process for obtaining a divorce in your state. Understand the financial, logistical, and emotional impact that divorce will have on you and your family.
Consider mediation. Mediation has a number of benefits over going to court to settle a divorce or dissolution of a marriage. The primary advantage over a court proceeding is that the couple can control the process, rather than a judge. Mediation lets you come to an agreement based on your own thoughts of what’s fair in your situation—instead of having a solution imposed upon you based on legal guidelines and state laws. You and your soon-to-be ex can settle all of the issues in your divorce, and you can still get the advice of an attorney. Plus, mediation is much less expensive than court proceedings. And it’s confidential, so there’s no public record of your sessions.
Interview a number of attorneys. Ask questions and take notes. Call them and ask about their experience and expertise with family law. Also ask them about what kind of client they usually represent (primarily husbands or wives). Next, make sure you understand how they will bill you, whether by hourly fee or flat rate… and whether they require a retainer (a sizeable fee charged in advance). It’s common for divorce attorneys to provide a free consultation to discuss your specific situation and how they would approach your case.
Gather your financial information. If you opt to start divorce proceedings, you’ll be required to disclose your finances early in the process. Many states have a required financial disclosure statement form (it’s probably on the court website). Read through this to see the types of information that will be required.
What Not to Do
Don’t give a play-by-play of your divorce or even marital unrest on social media. Remember, if you post something online, it’s permanent and can be used against you. The same is true for emails. Before you act, take a second look at what you’re saying and decide if it’s worth it. Your spouse may use that email or web post against you in court.
Don’t ask for or heed advice from family and friends. Of course, you’ll want to have a group that supports you during this time, but don’t let your family and friends to have too much control over you. Even with the best of intentions and your best interests at heart, family and friends can stir up emotions that could cloud your judgment. Your set of circumstances are different than your sister’s or your high school classmate’s—even if they say “that’s just what happened to me.” Use your family and friends for support but leave the legal issues and strategies to your attorney.
Contemplating divorce can be stressful, let alone moving forward and initiating the divorce process.
Do your homework and educate yourself on how divorce is handled in your state.
Remember to always stay calm (or try to!) and think before you act.
Kurt R. Mattson is the President of Union Legal Research. He is the former Director of Library Services and Continuing Education at Lionel Sawyer & Collins in Las Vegas. Prior to this, he worked at BNA and other legal publishers, spending a substantial portion of his career working for Thomson Reuters. He serves as a consultant for several businesses, law firms, and marketing companies.
Kurt received his JD from William Mitchell College of Law and his Masters of Law (LLM) from George Washington University. He received his Masters of Library Information Science (MLIS) from Wayne State University.
Kurt is the editor of Lexis’ BSA/AML Update, co-author of A.S. Pratt’s Mortgage Procedure Guide to Federal and State Compliance, and author of Fair Debt Collection Practices: Federal and State Law and Regulation. He is also a contributing author of Brady on Bank Checks. Kurt is also a contributor to other business and legal publications.