Starting the Divorce
In most states, a divorce does not begin until one spouse completes and files a complaint or petition form with the court clerk. The other spouse then responds in writing with another form called an answer. These documents set the foundation for the divorce and tell the court the reason for the divorce, as well as what both parties request in terms of property distribution and child custody. Either spouse may also request that the court award alimony, which is sometimes referred to as spousal support.
States often require both parties to file financial affidavits, either with the original paperwork or soon after. The financial affidavit is a sworn statement itemizing all the property the spouses own, as well as their estimated monthly incomes and expenses. Most forms also require the parties to provide the nature and amount of all outstanding debts incurred during the marriage. This form is a starting point for the court to analyze the financial needs and earning abilities of both spouses; this information plays an important role in determining whether an alimony award is appropriate.
Alimony determinations require the court to look at, among other factors, whether a spouse requesting alimony has the current or future ability to be self-supporting. It is not uncommon for a couple to disagree on this issue -- and the court may request that each side obtain an expert opinion. Experts, who are trained in assessing a person's educational background and present employment skills, would then evaluate the spouse requesting alimony and provide each party with written findings. These reports may then be submitted to the court and considered by the judge in determining the alimony award.
Depending on the nature of the case, additional documents may be required. If children are involved, most states require that the parties submit custody schedules and child support worksheets. The spouses also need to provide the court with any written agreements reached between them. Further, if the parties disagree on any divorce issues and the case proceeds to trial, the parties must first exchange all documents and other evidence they intend to present in court. This process is known as discovery -- and the documents might include property appraisals, phone records used to prove an affair, as well as witness lists.