Divorce can be a difficult process for anyone, but it can be even harder if you're a parent who has stayed home with or otherwise sacrificed career opportunities for your children. The economic union that you used to rely on to maintain your standard of living disintegrates, and you may perceive yourself at a disadvantage against a wealthier ex. Knowing your rights in the divorce process, though, can help ensure that you'll receive fair treatment.
You have the right to ask for the custody of your children. Although the laws requiring courts to decide child custody issues under the "best interests of the child" standard tend to be gender-neutral, mothers -- especially ones who stayed at home -- continue to enjoy an edge in custody battles. If you're the one who bore the lioness's share of the child care during the marriage, a court will likely be inclined to give you the lioness's share of placement time with children after your marriage ends. Separating parties sometimes threaten each other with taking the children away; rest assured that it's the judge, not your ex, who will be making that call.
You also have a right to ask for child support and, depending upon your income situation, spousal support. No matter what state you live in, child support will probably be determined under a guidelines system that takes into account your income, your ex's income and any valid child-related expenses either of you may incur. Spousal support -- which includes both permanent and temporary alimony -- tends to be a little less clear cut. To recover it, you'll need to convince a court that you depended upon your ex to maintain you in the standard of living to which you became accustomed during marriage. State law may contain additional showings you'll have to make, as well.
Property and Debt
States divide marital property and debt under the laws of either equitable distribution or community property. In community property states, courts divide marital property equally; in equitable distribution states, they divide it equitably, or fairly. Since fair and equitable don't always mean the same thing, equitable distribution laws typically contain a list of factors empowering a court to order an unequal distribution. The important thing to remember is that no matter what state you live in, in modern times it doesn't matter whose name an asset or debt appears in. If you or he acquired it during marriage, it's probably marital. This means it's also probably at least half yours. In the beginning of your case, you'll also have the right to ask for possession of the family home and ask that your soon-to-be-ex-husband be responsible for paying the mortgage.
Some states allow courts to award attorney fees to one side or the other in relation to certain claims. North Carolina, for example, empowers a family law judge to require one side to pay the other's court costs and fees in cases involving child custody, child support and spousal support. Check with a family law attorney licensed to practice in your state to see if you can obtain similar treatment. Even if you have little money, you may still be able to secure legal representation.