Separations take many forms. You may know that your marriage is in trouble, but are blindsided when served with divorce papers. Even if you are anticipating a divorce, not knowing what happens next can worsen what is already an emotional situation.
Here are some brief answers to common questions you may have, to help you understand what to expect if you are expecting a divorce.
“I don’t know where to find a good divorce attorney”
- Recommendations from friends or family members who have gone through divorce are often the best way to find an attorney.
- Web search results for local attorneys can be helpful.
- If you have worked with an attorney before but they do not handle divorces, they will be able to refer you to an attorney that does who they know and trust.
- The Bar Association in your County may have a list of attorneys that handle divorce cases.
- Websites such as Martindale.com can provide lists of attorneys with reviews from clients and other attorneys.
“I think my spouse has retained an attorney”
- If your spouse has retained an attorney, you may receive a letter from that attorney asking you to contact them to discuss settlement or you may be served with a Summons with Notices, and possibly a Verified Complaint.
- If you are approached by a process server with a Summons and Complaint, do not try to avoid service. Take the papers so you know what relief is being requested.
- Once you are served with a Summons and Complaint, you will have between 20-30 days to appear in the action. You should seek to retain an attorney at this point.
“I have an appointment to speak with an attorney but I don’t know what to ask”
- It is common for a friend or family member to come along for moral support.
- The attorney will go through the facts of the case to assess what issues will need to be addressed and what your ideal outcome would be.
- These meetings can last an hour or more, so make sure you have time in your schedule to focus on the discussion without feeling you have to rush.
“What documents should I take with me when I meet with an attorney?”
- You should provide a copy of any papers you received from your spouse or their attorney, and a copy of any pre-nuptial or other written agreement you may have with your spouse.
- You may be asked to complete an intake questionnaire, giving contact information, financial information, and information on your children, among other details.
- Following the consult, you will be asked to prepare a Statement of Net Worth, a form required by the court that details your expenses, income, assets and liabilities.
- You will eventually be asked to provide copies financial records relating to your case, such as bank and credit card statements, mortgage applications, paystubs and tax returns, but these are generally not needed for the initial consultation.
“What will happen with the kids”
- Courts generally look to keep the children in their current home and maintain stability in their lives during the divorce.
- Each party is entitled to liberal access unless the court determines otherwise.
- Family therapy and/or parenting classes can be useful to establish a good co-parenting relationship, which will be of great benefit to both you and your children.
- If custody becomes a contested issue, an attorney will be appointed for your children.
“How is child support and maintenance decided?”
- Child support is calculated using a formula that provides the presumptive amount of support based upon your combined incomes after certain specific adjustments are made.
- The percentage of income that will be used for child support depends on the number of children you have, with one child receiving 17% of the income and five or more children receiving at least 35%.
- The amount and duration of maintenance is also calculated using a multi-step formula based on your respective incomes and the length of the marriage.
- The parties can agree to deviate from these formulas if it is reasonable and appropriate.
“How will the bills get paid”
- If you are not able to reach an agreement with your spouse about paying marital bills, your attorney can make an application to the court for a determination of the parties’ financial obligations while the divorce is proceeding.
- The court will generally look to maintain the status-quo until a final decision can be made.
- If you did not handle the bills during the marriage, determine what bills are in your name and ensure those get paid to avoid or limit the impact on your credit score.
“What will happen with our assets or insurance”
- Automatic Restraining Orders come in to place upon the commencement of a divorce action, limiting what actions a party can take without agreement or court order.
- Assets cannot be sold, transferred, hidden or disposed of until there is a resolution of the case, and the court will impose penalties upon anyone that violates the restraining orders.
- Beneficiaries on retirement accounts or life insurance policies must remain the same.
- Health insurance cannot be modified until the divorce is final, which is a qualifying event allowing changes to be made outside of the open enrollment period.
- Other insurance policies, such as car/life/homeowner/rental insurance, should also remain the same unless there is an agreement by the parties or an order of the court.
“How long will the divorce take?”
- The more you and your spouse can agree on, the quicker the divorce can be resolved.
- An uncontested divorce can be finalized in a matter of weeks.
- Most divorces are resolved within 6-12 months.
- Contested or complex divorces can take longer than a year.
- Regardless of how long it takes, it will come to an end, life will establish a new and better “normal”, and you will be okay.
This is not intended to be legal advice. You should contact an attorney for your specific situation.
Martin S. Butcher, Senior CounselMartin Butcher is senior counsel with the firm and practices Family and Matrimonial Law, and Bankruptcy Law. He can be reached by phone at 866-303-9595 toll free or 845-764-9656 and by email.[/column]