When you're facing divorce, or thinking about divorce, you have a million questions. Those questions consume you. Until you get answers, you're anxious, nervous. Your mind assumes the worst. Unfortunately, getting answers to even the most common divorce questions can be hard.
Getting reliable answers is harder.
Yet, in divorce - as in almost every other area of life - knowledge is power. When you don't have the information you need, not only are you anxious, but you can't make good decisions. That's a problem. You see, during a divorce you will have to make more important life decisions than you will at any other time in your life.
So, to help you make the best decisions, here are some answers to some of the most common divorce questions.
(HINT: Make sure to follow the links in this article to discover answers to even more of your divorce questions!)
Contents - Divorce FAQs
- How Can I Make My Divorce as Amicable as Possible?
- What is Collaborative Divorce?
- What is Divorce Arbitration?
- What is Divorce Litigation?
- What is Online Divorce?
- Do I Need a Divorce Lawyer to Get a Divorce?
- Where Do I Get Divorced?
- What are Irreconcilable Differences in Divorce?
- How Long Do I Have to Be Separated From My Spouse Before I Can Get Divorced?
- If I Get Sole Custody of My Kids, Can I Do What I Want Without Having to Ask My Spouse?
- If My Spouse Doesn’t Pay Child Support, Do I Still Have to Let Him/Her See the Kids?
- I’m Already Paying Child Support. Do I Have to Pay for Other Expenses for the Kids Too?
- Am I Going to Have to Pay Alimony? If So, How Much and For How Long?
- Can I Get Alimony While the Divorce is Pending?
- Do I Really Have to Give My Spouse Half of Everything?
- My Spouse Has a Lot of Debt. Do I Have to Pay That?
Frequently Asked Divorce Questions
How Can I Make My Divorce as Amicable as Possible?
Two of the most important things you can do if you want an amicable divorce are to manage your emotions and your expectations.
Most people going through a divorce try to manage their SPOUSE'S emotions instead of their own. That never works. The only person you can control is YOU! Managing your own emotions will keep your divorce from raging out of control.
Divorce also doesn't work the way most people think that it does. Unfortunately, when you expect one thing to happen, and something different happens instead, you get angry and upset. That's why educating yourself about divorce and understanding how it really works is the key to managing your expectations about divorce.
When you manage your emotions and your expectations you lay the groundwork for an amicable divorce.
What is a Divorce Coach and Why do I Need One?
A divorce coach is a trained divorce professional who educates and guides you through your divorce. A divorce coach fills the gaps that your divorce lawyer WILL leave and enables you to get through your divorce with more confidence and clarity.
Here are some specific things that a divorce coach does:
- A divorce coach helps you work with your other divorce professionals so you spend less money on your divorce.
- S/he can teach you how to communicate with your spouse more productively about your kids. S/he can help you hear what your spouse is saying, and speak up effectively so that your spouse hears what you're saying.
- A divorce coach can help you prepare for mediation, negotiation, or trial so that you have the best chance for success.
To find out more about divorce coaching and how a divorce coach can answer your divorce questions, CLICK HERE.
What Divorce Process Should I Use?
There are many ways to get divorced today. Some of the primary main divorce processes you can use to get through your divorce are mediation, litigation, arbitration, direct negotiation, and Collaborative Divorce. Each divorce process has many variations.
Before starting your divorce, you would be wise to research all the different divorce processes BEFORE you file for divorce. Armed with that information you'll be in the best position to choose the divorce process that will work the best for you and your family.
What is Direct Negotiation in Divorce?
Direct negotiation with your spouse is the easiest, cheapest, and fastest way to resolve your divorce issues is to negotiate a settlement directly with your spouse. In direct negotiation, you and your spouse sit down, talk about your issues, and work them out.
Once you have negotiated a settlement, you can use a lawyer to draw up your divorce documents and get you through the court system.
(NOTE: Not everyone is able to negotiate directly with their spouse. If your spouse won’t talk to you, or if every conversation you have turns into a screaming match, negotiating your divorce on your own won’t work. What's more, if you're experiencing any type of domestic violence in your marriage, then trying to negotiate a divorce settlement directly with your spouse is NOT a good idea!)
What is Divorce Mediation?
Divorce Mediation is a process where a neutral mediator meets with you, your spouse, and maybe your attorneys, and helps you reach an amicable settlement agreement.
In some states, the mediator may write up your agreement into a formal settlement document that may be presented in court. In other states, you need a lawyer to draw up a formal settlement agreement for you.
There are many different kinds of divorce mediation, including traditional mediation, lawyer-assisted mediation, and full-day mediation. The kind of mediation you use depends on your situation and the mediator you choose. (Your divorce lawyer may also be able to guide you as to the type of divorce mediation that might potentially work for you.)
What is Collaborative Divorce?
Collaborative Divorce is an out-of-court team-based divorce process.
In Collaborative Divorce, you work with specially-trained divorce professionals, including divorce lawyers, divorce coaches, and divorce financial professionals who help you resolve your divorce issues amicably.
Your entire divorce professional team, as well as you and your spouse, all sign an agreement in the beginning of your Collaborative Divorce stating that you will not use the court system to resolve your divorce. If you or your spouse later decides to go to court, all of the Collaborative Divorce Professionals must withdraw from your case. Then you and your spouse have to start the litigation process with brand new attorneys, and other divorce professionals.
What is Divorce Arbitration?
In divorce arbitration, you and your spouse (and/or your attorneys) select an independent arbitrator who acts like a private judge. The arbitrator then decides the issues in your case in the same way that a judge would decide them if you tried your case in court.
You can use an arbitrator to decide ALL the issues in your divorce. Or you can just use an arbitrator to decide one or two critical issues. (Doing that is particularly effective when you have one or two issues that are holding up your whole divorce settlement.)
Divorce arbitration is more private, and often faster, than going to court. However, it can be just as expensive, especially since you and your spouse will have to pay the divorce arbitrator yourselves.
If you agreed to binding arbitration, then the arbitrator's decision will be final. However, depending upon what you and your spouse agreed to do, that decision may or may not be appealable.
What is Divorce Litigation?
Divorce litigation (a/k/a “fighting in court”) is the traditional way to get divorced.
In divorce litigation you use the court system to resolve your divorce issues. The divorce litigation process goes something like this.
You and your spouse each get lawyers (or not). One of you files your case in court. You exchange discovery and go through a series of court motions and pretrials. You fight in court for a few years. Eventually, you either try your case (i.e. have a judge decide what you will do) or you settle it.
The biggest benefit of divorce litigation is that when you and your spouse can't agree on anything yourselves, the judge will make your decisions for you. That will stop the endless back-and-forth negotiation between you and your spouse. It WILL resolve your divorce.
The downside of litigating your divorce all the way through trial is that when you do that you give up complete control over your divorce. Whether you like what the judge did or not, you're stuck with his/her decision.
What is Online Divorce?
While more is being done online these days than ever before, there is technically no such thing as an online divorce. That's because the only person who can grant you a divorce is a judge.
Depending on the way court is being conducted in your area, you (or a lawyer on your behalf) may present your case to a judge via Zoom. You may also be able to submit your final divorce documents to a judge via mail or email for his/her approval. Or, you may have to actually appear before a judge yourself (either in person or via video conferencing.)
But, one way or the other, a judge has to sign off your divorce in order for it to be final and official.
(To find out more about online divorce CLICK HERE.)
Do I Need a Divorce Lawyer to Get a Divorce?
You can get divorced without using a divorce lawyer. The better question, though, is: Should you?
While it's not always easy to find a good divorce lawyer, divorcing pro se (i.e. without a lawyer) is rarely a good idea. Unless you have no money, no children, no retirement account, and no real estate, you NEED legal advice in your divorce.
That having been said, in today's world, you don't necessarily have to retain a lawyer to represent you throughout your entire divorce. Instead, you can get legal help through the use of unbundled legal services. Doing that will save you money, but will require you to spend more time and do more work in your divorce yourself.
Where Do I Get Divorced?
In general, you will get divorced in the state that either you or your spouse lives in.
Each state has different divorce residency requirements which determine the specific county you will need to file your divorce in. Each state also has different jurisdictional rules that specify how long you have to live in that state before you can get divorced there.
What are Irreconcilable Differences in Divorce?
In order to get divorced, you need "grounds for divorce." That is, you need a legally-recognized reason based upon which you can get divorced. "Irreconcilable differences" is one of the grounds for divorce.
What constitutes "irreconcilable differences" depends on the law in your state. However, in general, if you and your spouse don't get along, if you argue or fight, or if one of you just doesn't want to be married anymore, that is probably going to be enough to prove that you have "irreconcilable differences." (Check with a divorce lawyer in your area on this.)
(NOTE: You and your spouse BOTH don't need to agree that irreconcilable differences exist in order to get a divorce based upon irreconcilable differences. If one of you thinks that you have irreconcilable differences and the other doesn't, that kind of proves that you really DO have irreconcilable differences!)
In most states, there are many different grounds for divorce. Those grounds typically include adultery, substance abuse, physical violence, mental cruetly and more. In Illinois, however, the ONLY ground for divorce is irreconcilable differences.
How Long Do I Have to Be Separated From My Spouse Before I Can Get Divorced?
It depends. Whether you need to be separated from your spouse for a certain amount of time before you qualify for a divorce, and the length of time you need to be separated, depends on the law of the state where you live.
In Illinois, you can now get divorced based upon irreconcilable differences without any waiting period so long as you and your spouse agree. If you and your spouse do not agree, but you have lived separate and apart from each other for 6 months, the law PRESUMES you have irreconcilable differences.
If I Get Sole Custody of My Kids, Can I Do What I Want Without Having to Ask My Spouse?
The answer is: it depends. It depends on the terms of your parenting agreement and divorce judgment, as well as the laws in your state.
In order to understand custody, you have to start by understanding that there are two kinds of custody: legal custody and residential custody.
Legal custody refers to the right to make decisions for your kids. Typically those decisions include decisions about religion, education, healthcare and extra-curricular activities.
Residential custody is where your child lives most of the time.
If you have sole legal custody of your kids then, theoretically at least, you have the right to make decisions for them in very specific areas. However, even if you ultimately get to make certain decisions for your kids, you may still need to consult with your spouse (or ex) before making those decisions.
(NOTE: Not all states still use the word “custody” in divorce cases. Some states, like Illinois, use the term “parental responsibilities” rather than custody. One of the parental responsibilities is the ability/right to make major decisions for your kids in the areas of health care, religion, education, and extra-curricular activities.)
If My Spouse Doesn’t Pay Child Support, Do I Still Have to Let Him/her See the Kids?
Yes. Every parent has a right to have parenting time (i.e. to spend time with his/her children), even if s/he is not paying child support as ordered by the court.
That doesn’t mean that parents aren’t obligated to support their children. They are.
If you don’t pay court-ordered child support, you can be found in contempt of court. You can be fined, sanctioned, and/or thrown in jail if you're held in contempt of court.
But you're still entitled to see your kids.
The bottom line is that visitation, (a/k/a parenting time), is not tied to whether or not a parent actually pays the child support that s/he is supposed to pay.
I’m Already Paying Child Support. Do I Have to Pay for Other Expenses for the Kids Too?
In addition to paying child support, parents may also have to pay or contribute to some of other expenses for their children. For example, parents generally must maintain medical insurance for their kids. They have to contribute to their children’s uncovered medical expenses. Both parents may also have to contribute to the children’s educational expenses and extra-curricular activities.
The exact expenses that you will have to pay depends on the law in your state and the terms of your divorce judgment.
Am I Going to Have to Pay Alimony? If So, How Much Will I have to Pay and For How Long?
Each state’s laws regarding alimony (also known as maintenance or spousal support) are different.
Some states, like Illinois, have maintenance guidelines. (Alimony is known as maintenance in Illinois.) These alimony/maintenance guidelines establish a formula that determines both the amount of maintenance that is to be paid and the length of time that maintenance is paid.
Most states, however, have no such guidelines. Instead, they have a list of factors that a court must consider when deciding whether to grant maintenance.
Understanding and calculating alimony/maintenance/spousal support may seem straightforward enough. But it can be extremely complicated. To figure out if you are going to have to pay (or be entitled to receive) maintenance, it's best to consult with a divorce attorney in your area.
Can I Get Alimony While My Divorce is Pending?
In general, courts can grant you temporary support while your divorce is pending. However, state laws vary widely. Judges vary in the way they apply the law. So whether you receive spousal support, both while your case is pending and after it is done, depends on the law in your states, the facts and circumstances of your case, and the way the judges in your area view spousal support.
Just like figuring out post-divorce spousal support can be complicated, figuring out whether you can get support during your divorce can be complicated too.
An attorney in your area can help you determine the chances of your getting maintenance/support before your case is over. S/he can also help you figure out your chances of getting ongoing spousal support after your divorce is done.
Do I Really Have to Give My Spouse Half of Everything?
If you live in an equitable distribution state, you will have to split your marital property “equitably.” Splitting property "equitably" essentially means that you have to split it fairly. The question, of course, is "What does splitting property 'fairly' mean?"
“Fair” may mean you divide your property 50/50. Or, it may mean that you divide it 60/40, 70/30, or in some other proportion.
If you live in a community property state, you don't have to worry about figuring out what's "fair." Community property is generally divided equally (i.e. 50/50).
Dividing property in a divorce seems simple. But it can be extremely complicated. That's because not all property is "marital."
The best way to know for sure how your property will be divided is to consult with a local divorce lawyer in your area.
My Spouse Has a Lot of Debt. Do I Have to Pay That?
How debts are divided during a divorce depends on whether they were incurred before the marriage or during the marriage. It also depends on what they were incurred for.
If your debts were incurred during yourmarriage, and they were incurred for marital purposes, they're probably marital debts. That means that both you and your spouse may have to contribute to paying those debts after your divorce.
If you or your spouse incurred debt before you got married, that debt will likely be non-marital debt. (For example, student loans that you incurred before you got married are generally going to be non-marital debt.)
While you generally are not responsible for your spouse’s non-marital debts, you may very well be ordered to contribute toward the payment of any marital debts your spouse incurred. However, like everything else in divorce, there are a lot of variables that can affect what, and how much, you may owe.
To figure out what debts you may be responsible for paying after your divorce, you need to consult with a divorce attorney in your area.