It's not uncommon to be in the dark about the court system. Many people go their whole lives without ever having to set foot in a courthouse. But if you're considering divorce, it makes sense to educate yourself as much as possible about the process. Understanding the divorce process can help you get past the fear of the unknown and get organized.
Most county court websites include downloadable divorce forms. To get started, fill out the proper forms, including the petition or complaint for divorce and the summons. Generally, file the forms with your family law court clerk and pay the filing fee. Anyone unable to afford the filing fee may apply for a waiver. The petition and summons must be served, or delivered, to the other spouse, who has a certain number of days to file an answer to the petition.
Custody is decided according to the children's best interest, and a judge considers several factors in making that determination. Factors may include the children's primary residence, the environment in each parent's home, which parent has the strongest bond with the children, and any history of domestic or child abuse. Performing as the primary caregiver, being involved in children's education and being supportive of the other parent are considerations that impact which spouse retains or assumes the primary caregiver role.
Marital property is divided according to state law where the divorce is filed. In community property states such as California, property and debt acquired during the marriage is divided equally between the spouses, according to value of the property. Equitable distribution states, such as New York, divide marital property and debt in a way that is considered equitable, based on factors such as the length of and financial contribution to the marriage, and continued earning capacity of each spouse after divorce. Property and debt belonging to either spouse individually before marriage, if treated as separate from the marriage, generally remains with its original owner after divorce.
Courts encourage any victim of domestic violence to call the authorities and file a police report, and then apply for an emergency protective order. Many courts have domestic violence offices with personnel who can help complete and file the necessary paperwork. There is usually a hearing within a few days of filing, after which time the court may order the abusive spouse or parent to leave the marital residence and physically stay away from the victim.
Hiring Legal Counsel
A divorce attorney advises his client about the divorce process, drafts and files documents and speaks for you in court. Some people prefer to have a lawyer handle the matter, but these days there are a lot of resources available to people who want file for divorce without an attorney. Public information posted on a range of websites can guide you through all the relevant issues in a divorce.