Deciding that a divorce is right for your family is a huge decision, but when you know, you know. However, making this decision is just the beginning. Now you face the challenge of learning how to divorce.
Over 90 percent of people will get married by the time they turn 50. However, about half of all married U.S. couples will eventually divorce. These numbers show that you’re far from alone. Figuring out how to divorce is a hurdle countless people have to face.
The legal system doesn’t make the process easy. However, the more you prepare yourself, the better the process will be for everyone. Divorce doesn’t have to be a traumatic experience for you or your kids, and knowledge is power. Keep reading for exactly what you need to know about how to divorce.
Types of Divorce
Knowing how to divorce involves identifying the type of divorce you're facing. Not all divorces look the same. In addition to involving individual people and situations, the law recognizes a few different divorce types.
Although we'll give you a general guideline to the kinds of divorce, the divorce laws are different in every state. The procedures and specifics can vary a lot, depending on where you’re getting your divorce.
In some states, the Uniform Divorce Recognition Act requires you to file your divorce in the same state as you both live. If you file for divorce somewhere else, the state where you actually live may not recognize it. This might not be an issue right now, but it definitely will be if one of you wants to marry again in the future.
There’s also a residency requirement for divorce in most states. You may not have to live there currently to get divorced there, but you will need to have lived in that state for a certain length of time before.
The requirement for a separation period before divorce also varies by state. In some cases, people will actually move to a state where the separation requirement is shorter to speed up the divorce process. However, moving for your divorce makes the process even harder for your kids, so you'll want to avoid that step.
It’s best to understand the laws in your current state and be prepared to navigate them. But no matter where you are, divorces fall into these main categories.
In a contested divorce, one spouse doesn’t agree on the details of the divorce. Or, they might legally dispute the other spouse’s choices, or refuse to reply to the divorce request.
In short, if both spouses can't agree to every single detail of the divorce, then the law call that contested. In a contested divorce, you’ll need to take your case to a judge to resolve the issues. This makes figuring out how to divorce much more expensive and harder on your family. It’s best to avoid a contested divorce if possible.
Wondering how to divorce the easiest way? Aim for uncontested.
If the other spouse responds to the request for the divorce and agrees on the decisions about property, child support, and more, it’s an uncontested divorce. This is the ideal situation for many families. It’s more affordable and amicable than a contested divorce.
In fact, in some states, you can complete an uncontested divorce without hiring lawyers, which saves a lot of time, money, and strife. However, a lot of states still require lawyers, court, and other expensive proceedings, even in an uncontested situation.
For many years, in all divorces, one party was always “at fault” for the divorce. Then, in 1970, California pioneered the concept of “no-fault” divorce.
Previously, there had to be provable grounds for divorce, such as cruelty, adultery, or desertion. If the other spouse didn’t want the divorce, they would argue against these claims in court. This didn’t allow couples who simply agreed that they didn’t want to be together anymore to easily get a divorce.
With the new no-fault laws, the ways divorces were conducted and perceived changed drastically. The no-fault divorce made ending a marriage easier, and less stigmatized than ever before.
Today, although the no-fault option exists, many states still allow fault divorces as well. This isn’t ideal, especially in a family with kids. A fault divorce can quickly turn into a lengthy court proceeding involving many accusations. However, in some situations, this kind of divorce may still be the right choice.
You can get a no-fault divorce in every state. In this kind of divorce, no one is at fault for the marriage ending. This doesn’t mean that both parties did nothing wrong, just that any wrong-doing doesn’t become part of the divorce proceedings. Even in cases where issues like adultery sparked the divorce, the no-fault process can help spare the kids from the least pleasant aspects of divorce (and save money, too).
Most of the time, you can get a no-fault divorce without explaining or proving the reason for the marriage ending. The other spouse doesn’t have to agree for it to be a no-fault divorce. With this option, you’ll reduce legal fees and time spent in court.
In some states, you also have the option of a simplified divorce. This is the best choice for a fast, easy divorce process. You may not need to spend any time in court at all for a simplified divorce.
A simplified divorce is a no-fault, uncontested divorce in which both parties agree on the settlement. This tends to be the option with the least stress and the lowest costs. In some states, you can bypass lawyers and just fill out some forms that a judge will then approve. However, a few states don’t permit a simplified divorce if you have dependent children or financial debts to take care of as a couple.
A simplified divorce can be granted in as little as a month after filing. For many couples with kids, this is a desirable option, but you’ll need to check with your state to see if they permit it.
How to Divorce: A Step-by-Step Guide
What does the process of how to divorce really look like? Although it varies depending on state and situation, this guide will show you the basics, so you know what to expect.
Typically, a divorce begins with separation. This involves one spouse moving out of the house. Some couples separate to find out if divorce is right for them, while others separate after making the decision.
However, keep in mind that the separation step is often much more difficult for your kids than the actual legal divorce. Adjusting to having their parents living separately can be a major hurdle, even if it’s meant to be temporary. This is a good time to check in with your kids about how they feel and seek family counseling if appropriate.
Check what your state’s separation requirement is to find out how long you and your spouse will need to live apart before the divorce can move forward. Moving back in for even a short amount of time can make the separation period start all over again. You can't separate if you are still living in the same house -- you will have to live separately.
File a petition
The next step in how to divorce is to file a petition with the court. This is necessary even if you’re both in agreement about the divorce. Only one person needs to file the petition to start the divorce process.
The petition will state fault grounds, if any, or that it’s a no-fault divorce. To file the petition, one of you will need to pay a fee, fill out the right forms, and file them with the proper court. You can do this without a lawyer.
Hopefully, you and your spouse maintain healthy communication throughout this process so you can best support your children. However, you’ll still need to formally notify your spouse of the divorce petition at this step. You’ll also need to send proof of this formal notification to the court. The spouse can now decide whether they agree to everything in the divorce or not.
Now, temporary orders will need to be granted to navigate things like child custody legally. Even though the divorce isn’t yet finished, there has to be legal agreement on how to split up childcare and more until it is.
If both spouses don’t agree on the terms of the divorce, a negotiation will begin. This can be a slow process with many court dates. Child custody and visitation, property division, and more can all be part of the negotiation process.
It’s always best if both parties can reach an agreement without going to court for negotiation. The agreement has to be written and is legally binding. If you can’t agree at this stage, your case will go to trial.
When the two former spouses can’t reach an agreement on their own or through negotiation, a long, expensive, stressful trial ensues. Now, your lawyers are pitted against each other, both trying to win the case. You can never predict the outcome.
Most of the time, only hostile divorces end up in a trial. No matter what your situation is, try your best to avoid this step. When things become so toxic between you and your ex-spouse that a trial is necessary, it often gets in the way of your ability to work together so your kids can live their best lives.
That said, you can end up in a trial in spite of your best efforts if your spouse doesn’t cooperate. Make sure to find extra ways to support your children and keep them away from the most hostile parts of the process.
Order of dissolution
Finally, you’ll get the order of dissolution, which officially ends the marriage. The more quickly and easily you can reach this step, the better. This is the point at which you can truly start adjusting to your new life and your new family dynamics.
Questions to Ask Yourself Before Getting a Divorce
Before you get a divorce, and throughout the divorce process, there are a few things that you should consider. Here are some of the main questions to keep in mind.
Is divorce the best choice?
Many times, a divorce is the best choice for all parties. Still, it’s worth questioning the decision before plowing ahead. The process can be long, expensive, and difficult, even if both you and your spouse work together. Sometimes, it’s worthwhile to try counseling or mediation first.
That said, you shouldn’t just “keep it together for the kids.” Your children can thrive and stay close to both you and the other parent before, during, and after a divorce.
Is a lawyer necessary?
First, find out if your state requires a lawyer for all kinds of divorce. If it doesn’t, you might try to work with your spouse to make the no-lawyer option a reality. However, if they don’t want to cooperate, there may be no way around hiring lawyers for the divorce.
In some cases, hiring a lawyer can also be a good idea even when it’s not necessary. If you both agree to the divorce, but feel confused and bogged down by all the legal paperwork, a lawyer can make things easier. Even if you don’t hire one long-term, it doesn’t hurt to have a consultation with a lawyer to help clear up your questions.
Are you communicating well with your kids?
You don’t want to involve your kids too closely in disputes or disagreements with the other parent. However, you shouldn’t keep them in the dark to “protect them” throughout the divorce. Share as much information as is appropriate, and be open to answering any questions that they have.
If your child doesn’t come to you with questions or concerns, make sure to check in with them. Depending on their age and personality, they might not be ready, willing, or able to say everything they’re thinking. But make sure they know you’re available for them, and help connect them to resources such as counseling as needed.
Divorce Can Be a New Beginning
There’s no easy guide to how to divorce. Between state laws and individual circumstances, things can vary wildly throughout the divorce process. One thing’s for certain, though: it’s almost never easy.
Still, just because it’s hard doesn’t mean it isn’t worth it. If you’re confident that divorce is the right choice, you’re forging your way toward a new beginning for yourself and your family. In the best of cases, this can help you become even closer to your kids and happier with the circumstances of your life.
The more you know, the easier the whole process becomes. Did any of this information about how to divorce surprise you? Let us know in the comments!