The Obligations in a Divorce

by Rachel Moran
Divorce entails legal obligations during and after the negotiations.

Divorce entails legal obligations during and after the negotiations.

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When you get divorced, you might be surprised that you still have obligations that arise from your defunct marriage. You may be required to adhere to new agreements concerning your children, money, property, residence and other relationships, including your career and romantic involvements. Most people need professional help to help them understand how their new lifestyles may affect their divorce obligations. Generally, these obligations are determined by the laws of your state or the agreement you create with your former spouse. Understanding these requirements can help you heal and flourish after a divorce.

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Your state may require you satisfy residency rules before you can file for divorce. This can be tricky for couples in transition. You may want to move, but most states require six months to a year of residency before you can file for a divorce. If you fail to satisfy this legal requirement or lie about it, you could face legal ramifications or even criminal prosecution.


Your children never stop being your obligation unless specific procedures sever your parental rights or they reach adulthood. Divorce courts follow the “best interest” standard, which means your obligations serve your children's best interests above all else. This may mean finding new ways to relate to your children and ex-spouse. Failure to comply with court orders can result in loss of your custody rights. If you owe child support, many states criminalize failure to pay.

Alimony/Spousal Support

Alimony, also known as Spousal Support, is payment that one spouse makes to the other. Divorce courts decide if anyone is obligated to pay an ex-spouse based on factors that include the length of the marriage and financial arrangements during the relationship. Alimony may be negotiated privately or determined by a prenuptial agreement, but a final court order may override private agreements and binds the parties to comply with the court’s decree.


Property obligations are governed by a complex body of case law. Real estate, physical property and financial assets can drive acrimonious disputes. Both spouses have an obligation to disclose all property, including information about its acquisition. Hiding money, cars, boats or other assets is unlawful. Spouses who go on wild spending sprees in hopes of destroying the other rarely see any compassion from divorce judges.


Estate planning is the strategy for distributing your wealth after you die. You might have developed an estate plan during your marriage that includes your former spouse in your will, as the beneficiary of trusts or other accounts, or as the heir to business interests. In some states, if you fail to change your estate plan after you divorce, your estate remains obligated to distribute your wealth to the persons named. In other states, divorce voids any estate planning that occurred prior to divorce. In those states, if new estate planning is not carried out, in the event of death, a person's property and assets will pass according to that state's laws of intestacy (death without a will/trust).


Separation agreements are valid in some but not all states. They are a precursor to divorce agreements and stipulate how spouses will live before a divorce is final. The obligations of a separation agreement in states that recognize them are binding on both spouses.