Uniform Dissolution of Marriage Act

by Stephanie Reid
One of the goals of the UDMA was to avoid unnecessary marital litigation.

One of the goals of the UDMA was to avoid unnecessary marital litigation.

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If you are considering divorce or are in the midst of a divorce proceeding, the provisions of the Uniform Dissolution of Marriage Act might shed some light on the likely outcome of your particular case. The Uniform Dissolution of Marriage Act is more accurately known as the Uniform Marriage and Divorce Act and paved the way for the modern concept of no-fault divorce. Drafted in 1970, the UDMA serves as a model state marriage and divorce statute. States are not required to enact a model statute, but this act has been adopted in a handful of U.S. states -- and closely followed by nearly all others.

Marriage

The UDMA eliminates many of the historical marriage prohibitions and emphasizes the marriage relationship as a contractual relationship. The UDMA limits marriage to one man and one woman, but does not require either to have reached age 18. It further provides a general template for a marriage license as well as a section addressing the need for parental consent in the event either intended spouse is still a minor. The UDMA prohibits any marriage where one party is still married to another person. Other prohibited marriages include those between an ancestor and descendant, brother and sister, aunt and nephew, or uncle and niece.

Divorce Grounds

A court has jurisdiction to issue a divorce as long as one or both spouses lived in the state for at least 90 days before the divorce petition was filed. Historically, one spouse had to "sue" the other spouse for a divorce. As part of the lawsuit, the petitioning spouse had to make allegations of bad conduct -- such as adultery or abuse -- or insanity against the other spouse, accompanied by evidence to support the argument. With the advent of the UDMA, these grounds were no longer necessary. If the parties have lived separate and apart for 180 days and assert that the marriage is irretrievably broken, the court must award a no-fault divorce.

Property Distribution

Depending on which state you live in, the UDMA provides two alternatives for the distribution of marital property. The first alternative mirrors those statutes in place in “equitable distribution” states and allows for the division of property in a way that is fair, taking into account each party’s contribution to the marriage and earning potential post-divorce. The other alternative more closely mimics those statutes found in “community property” states, where courts divide all property obtained during the time of the marriage between the two spouses.

Alimony

Also known as spousal support or maintenance, the UDMA provides model laws pertaining to alimony. Specifically, the court may award alimony if it finds one spouse is without sufficient property or assets to provide for basic needs or is unable to support himself through employment. If you are considering petitioning for alimony, the court will determine an appropriate length of time for you to receive alimony payments from your spouse and will consider factors like each party’s earning potential, education, experience, background, health and the standard of living during the marriage.

Child Custody, Visitation and Support

If you have children with your spouse, the court must consider child custody and visitation. Under the UDMA, a court only may decide these issues if the child has lived in the state for at least six months prior to the date the divorce proceedings started or if no other state has jurisdiction over the child. Custody and visitation are decided based on factors upholding the best interests of each child involved. These factors include the interrelationship between the children and caregivers, physical and mental health of all parties involved, criminal or domestic violence history, the child’s wishes, and the wishes of the parents. The UDMA also addresses factors the court must consider if you or your spouse decide to petition for child support. These factors include the financial resources of the parents and children, the child’s accustomed standard of living, and the child’s physical, emotional and educational needs.