Are you or your spouse planning to file a divorce?
Although the media recently announced that, after divorce rates more than doubled between 1970 and 2008, they are now dropping, many marriages still end this way.
In the U.S., for example, 39% of marriages will end in divorce, and estimates are similar for U.K., Russia, and many other countries as well.
You’re neither the first nor the last couple to go through this.
What matters is how you do it, as a divorce can have wide emotional, financial, and legal implications.
Knowing your legal options can significantly decrease the emotional and financial burden, so you should start from there.
No matter where you live or why you are divorcing, the decision will affect your children, living arrangements, financial situation, and other aspects of your life.
You and your spouse will have to agree or let the court decide on:
- Property division, including what to do with your home
- Child custody (including child support payments)
- Spousal support / alimony payments
The process will also involve following a series of procedures and filling in tons of paperwork.
Under the circumstances, you should consider consulting a divorce lawyer.
They can help you make the best decisions in your case and take over the legal hassles.
One of the most important decisions you or your spouse will have to make is whether to file a contested or uncontested divorce.
Each option comes with a series of implications worth considering.
Contested vs. Uncontested vs. Collaborative Divorce
Depending on your relationship and your ability to reach an agreement, you and your spouse can opt for a contested, uncontested, or collaborative divorce.
1. Uncontested Divorce
Uncontested divorce means that you and your spouse agree that separation is the best solution in your situation.
You also agree on property, parenting, and financial matters.
This means the entire process will end sooner and with fewer hassles for everyone involved.
2. Contested Divorce
Contested divorce is for spouses who cannot reach an agreement.
It usually ends in court, with each party represented by a divorce lawyer.
This divorce option can be costly and negatively affects the relationship between the divorcing spouses.
3. Collaborative Divorce
Collaborative divorce is the best option for spouses who cannot reach an agreement but would like to avoid a court battle.
It requires active participation from the spouses and involves negotiations and, often, mediation.
Obviously, the best option would be an uncontested divorce.
When an uncontested divorce is not possible, a collaborative divorce is preferable to a contested divorce.
In all situations, working with a divorce attorney is a great way to save time and effort and defend your interests when it comes to property division, child custody, and alimony.
Division of Property in Divorce
One of the first things you will need to worry about during the divorce is property division.
To make things easier, you should have clear records of all your assets, and debts, including any savings and retirement accounts, mortgages, credit cards, etc.
In most countries and states, the spouses have equal rights.
However, when dividing assets, courts will often consider the income of each spouse, their separate property, fault in the divorce, marriage length, child custody, etc.
For example, a cheated spouse could get better terms than a cheating one.
Also, a spouse receiving child custody has higher chances of getting the family home than one with just visitation rights.
Property division issues should be tackled with care, preferably with the help of an experienced divorce lawyer.
Fast asset sales and account liquidations could bring about losses related to prices and interest.
When filing for divorce, spouses with children need to submit a parenting plan.
The parenting plan stipulates who gets physical custody and decision rights and settles issues related to the child’s education, accommodation, food and clothing expenses, medical care, transportation, visitations, vacations, and more.
Another important issue related to child custody is child support.
Under the law, both parents are responsible for covering childcare expenses.
When they divorce, the parent receiving physical custody of the child will usually receive child support payment from their spouse.
Decision related to child support payment will take into account the parents’:
- Financial situation
- Employment status
- Insurance status
- Mental and physical condition
- Other responsibilities (caring for other children)
The ideal is for the spouses to reach an agreement and come up with a joint parenting plan.
Leaving cases involving domestic violence and criminal behaviors aside, it is in the child’s best interest for the parents to share custody and maintain a good relationship.
Spouses who cannot support themselves (are unemployed or disabled) may be entitled to alimony payments from their divorcing spouse, until their situation improves or they remarry.
Laws vary by country and state, and the amount differs according to the parties’ situation.
The best way to determine whether you will owe or benefit from spousal support and what amount to expect is to consult a divorce attorney. The latter may also explain how the divorce will impact your taxes.
If you and your spouse will be selling or transferring assets and making child support and alimony payments, you should first consider how those will affect your taxes.
For example, in most states:
- Real estate transactions during divorce are subject to tax exemptions.
- Divorced spouses who pay alimony can deduct their expenses.
- Spousal support beneficiaries will owe taxes for the amounts they receive.
- Divorced spouses may continue to benefit from their spouses’ health insurance for a given period after the divorce.
Of course, each case is different.
A divorce lawyer can explain the law in your particular case and provide all the information and advice you need.
Although some divorcing spouses avoid requesting legal advice because they fear the costs, the benefits are considerable.
The Benefits of Working with a Divorce Lawyer
Working with a divorce attorney or at least consulting one before or during the procedures can yield valuable benefits:
- Answers to any questions that may arise
- Legal advice
- Paperwork and procedures completion
- Help devising the parenting plan and asset distribution proposals
- Child support and alimony calculations
- Support during negotiations with your spouse
- Divorce-related tax advice, etc.
Moreover, the advice of an experienced divorce lawyer can often be enough to convince divorcing spouses to opt for an uncontested or collaborative divorce rather than put up with the hassles and expenses of a court battle.
Liz S. Coyle is the Director of Client Services for JacksonWhite Attorneys at Law. She also serves as a paralegal for the Family Law Department. She is responsible for internal and external communications for the firm.