Help! I Want a Divorce but Don’t Know Where to Start: A Guide to Divorce

undefinedLast month, Founding Attorney, Lewis Pacific Cascade, joined our webinar to discuss important issues you should consider before and while filing for divorce. As we head into the new year, many couples who have been in an unhappy marriage will feel motivated to finally take a step towards creating a healthier and happier future for themselves. If this is the case for you, there are several important aspects of divorce you’ll want to understand before jumping into the legal process. Below, we have highlighted the primary points that Lewis covered:

Get Advice from an Experienced Family Law Attorney

An important first step if you’re considering divorce is to schedule an initial consultation with an attorney who can explain what a divorce means legally, financially, and practically. An attorney who is experienced in the intricacies of family law will be able to walk you through the entire legal process so you know what to expect, while also discussing what you can expect legal counsel to cost.

Determine How You Foresee Yourself Co-Parenting

Do you know what the difference between custody, parenting time, and visitation are? Have you considered whether you and your spouse will share sole or joint legal custody? Have you thought about how legal and physical custody might affect your relationship with your children and your ex-spouse? These are important questions to ask, and family law terminology that you should become familiar with.

If you are contemplating divorce and have children, you will need to learn how to co-parent. Decisions will need to be made regarding where the kids will live, if there will be any changes in where they go to school, and how to make this process as smooth as possible for them.

If there is a dispute between you and your spouse about who will take care of the children, you’ll benefit by keeping a detailed record of “who does what” with the kids. Make sure you write down who takes them to their appointments, attends their extracurricular activities, and is involved in their schooling.

Consider How Your Property Will be Divided

It is important to understand the law regarding how your property and debts are divided in a divorce and how martial and non-marital property are treated. This will include assets such as real property, personal property, investments, loans owed to you, inheritances, and other assets that you own and have a right to. Many people believe that their house is their biggest asset, when in reality their retirement or pension hold higher value. Take some time to figure out the value of your assets, and what you would consider to be a fair distribution.

Some items, such as separate property or inheritances, may be able to stay with you after the divorce. If you can show that money you brought into the marriage was used to finance the family business or your ex-spouses professional education, this may affect the division of assets or debts as well. It should be noted that the amount of spousal support you owe may also go into calculating how your property is divided. (As I recall, Lewis downplayed, so maybe we might not want to include it)

Address Your Shared Debts

If you and your spouse have shared debts, you’ll want to look for copies of your mortgages and property tax documents, recent credit card statements and any other loans you have. Also include recent credit reports for you and your spouse, and copies of the last 12 months of bills for recurring household expenses, such as utilities, school tuition, and children’s activities.

It should be noted that credit card companies aren’t bound by divorce decrees, so they can go after you for jointly incurred debt if your former spouse doesn’t pay. Thus, you’ll want to try and clear up any jointly held credit card debt before you move into proceedings.

Think About What You Expect from Child & Spousal Support

There are a few different factors that the court will consider when deciding whether to assign child or spousal support.

For child support, the court uses a standard calculation that the parents complete to help decide how much child support will be. It takes into account the amount of potential income of the parents, their living expenses (including childcare, medical insurance, and other factors), and the amount of time each parent spends with the children.

Regarding spousal support, judges award support to spouses who need help paying for the divorce, require assistance to meet basic needs or to preserve a marital lifestyle, or to help a spouse become financially independent. Spousal support is not always awarded and does not generally continue indefinitely. The relative earning capacity and financial needs and resources of each spouse are important factors in deciding spousal support.

Steps to Get Started

If you’re ready to file for divorce, you’ll need to file a Petition for Dissolution at your local courthouse. Doing this starts the clock running, and will require your ex-spouse to get served these divorce papers by a third-party. It’s important to note that temporary orders may be needed, such as Status Quo or Temporary Support orders. After filing, you’ll want to stay organized by starting a divorce file where you keep every document that could influence your divorce proceedings, as well as create a new email account that your spouse does not have access to.

Depending on the level of contention within a marriage, the divorce process can look very different for couples. If you and your spouse are able to amicably agree on most or all terms, the process will be likely be shorter, easier, and less costly. However, if you and your spouse are unable to agree on important terms, your matter will likely need to go to court so that a judge can make final decisions on your behalf.

Divorce is a difficult decision, and not one that should be taken lightly. Before filing, our firm recommends that you may want to consider seeing a marriage or individual therapist to ensure that you’re mentally and emotionally ready, and confident in your decision to move forward. If you’ve decided that this is the best next step for you, our firm is here to help. To learn more about how to get started with a divorce and to hear from Lewis on these topics, you can download our Guide to Divorce webinar for free via our website under our Resource tab.