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Understanding Divorce

Common questions and answers that help separating couples understand the divorce process.

When parents are in the process of navigating a divorce, it is a time of high stress and emotion for everyone involved, especially the children. There are many questions and factors to consider, and each relationship comes with unique circumstances and needs. While no two divorces are identical, there are several common questions that most divorcing couples will ask themselves throughout the process.

What are the standard grounds for divorce?

When filing for divorce, spouses can indicate whether they are filing for a fault or no-fault divorce. A no-fault divorce suggests that there was no blame to place, and it is instead that the partnership did not suit both people. A divorce filed with a specific fault can cite different reasons caused by one person who ultimately was the root cause of the separation. A fault divorce could be attributed to causes like adultery, cruelty, or abandonment.


How does the divorce process work?

Getting a divorce is not as simple as saying that two people no longer want to continue their marriage. Depending on your state, the divorce process can look entirely different. When children are involved, couples must also consider how their actions will impact their kids in the immediate and near future. Children fall under a parenting plan until they are 18 or older, so they could be affected by the outcome of a divorce anywhere from several weeks before they turn 18 to before they're born.

While the process seems simple on paper, checking every box to reach the end and having a judge grant the divorce decree can take several months or even years in contested or high-conflict cases. For those pursuing an uncontested divorce, the process is often shorter, less expensive, and sometimes more collaborative than combative.

Waiting periods of anywhere from 10 days to a year are often imposed to ensure that both people are satisfied and understand the weight of their decision. Some states require a mandatory separation period where spouses must live separately before getting a divorce. The terms of legal separation differ in each state, and while there may be some financial benefits to this period before a divorce, there are still legal ties between the spouses that affect their lives.

Can divorce be denied?

While the courts can deny a divorce, this is usually done temporarily due to procedural mishaps or perceived wrongdoing. In cases where a divorce is denied, a couple often must file a new petition for divorce with any issues or mistakes corrected.

Some of the more common factors that can lead to a denied divorce include:

  • A couple not completing and submitting a required court form
  • A judge believing a couple is divorcing to try and commit fraud
  • A person in a couple refusing to receive or sign divorce papers
  • A judge not finding allegations of an at-fault divorce to be true
  • A couple continually disagreeing on child support issues

How are assets divided?

There is no hard-and-fast formula for determining what and how much each person is entitled to receive in a divorce. The division of assets depends on the length of the marriage, reasons surrounding the end of the marriage, the age of each spouse, whether there are children involved, and many other similar considerations.

Common marital assets and liabilities that are split in a divorce include:

  • The couple's primary residence
  • Vacation or rental properties
  • Cars
  • Cash
  • Bank accounts
  • Debts or loans
  • Stocks and bonds
  • Life insurance

In addition to separating shared assets in the marriage, some divorces will include spousal support or child support payments to allow both spouses (and any children involved) to continue a similar standard of living. These payments are optional but can be considered by the individuals involved, and the calculations vary by state. Sometimes, a judge or lawyer may find these payments necessary to ensure the children involved receive equal support from both parents.

How much does the average divorce cost?

The average cost of a divorce in the U.S. can vary dramatically based on the parents' location, the terms on which the marriage ended, and the assets involved. According to Forbes, the median cost of a divorce is $7,000 per person, while the national average ranges from $15,000 to $20,000. In more contentious cases that spend significant time in court, the costs can quickly come closer to $100,000 per person.

For parents specifically concerned about high costs due to legal expenses, many free or low-cost resources give them access to legal assistance without the typical fees. Additionally, alternatives like mediation, arbitration, and divorce coaching help divorcing couples reach compromises outside of court for a lower cost and quicker timeline.

In addition to the costs of working with a family law attorney and going through a divorce, the process and its hidden costs can impact your financial wellness in other ways. A divorce can affect credit by reducing the income of each household, creating additional expenses through lawyer fees, and neglecting joint debt while navigating the process. Consult financial advisors and request a copy of your credit report to keep track of all joint accounts that need to be altered.

How should parents talk to their kids about divorce?

The way parents tell their children about divorce can shape the child's perception of the separation, influence their future relationships, and directly impact their transition to shared parenting. Spouses should have a candid conversation with each other to get on the same page about what they want to tell the children. This list of children's books about divorce may be a good way to continue to educate your kids about the process and help them navigate the transition that can be difficult at times.


How do divorced couples transition to co-parenting?

Co-parenting begins far before a divorce is final. Creating open lines of communication is vital to setting a positive tone toward a lifetime of collaboration for the benefit of your children. For some parents, however, communication is highly strained or near impossible for various reasons. Communication services like TalkingParents can help you keep interactions and conversations organized and documented.

Adjusting to life after divorce is a process that will take years and includes learning to accept financial, physical, and mental challenges that may occur. Divorce may signal the end of a marriage, but it also marks the beginning of a new chapter for a family. Divorcing spouses should consult family law and mental health professionals to build a team of experts to help guide them through the process of protecting their mental health, overcoming co-parenting triggers, managing co-parenting anxiety, and more.

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