Divorce, or dissolution of marriage, is the legal termination of the marital relationship. The divorce process is handled by family law attorneys (each estranged spouse retains his or her own counsel) and involves a number of issues, ranging from division of property to child custody. While it’s important to hire a lawyer who is skilled at your economic and other interests in a divorce, it is crucial to find an attorney with whom you feel comfortable on a personal level. Divorce is an intensely emotional process, requiring delicate people skills in addition to legal know now. It may make sense to complete a divorce without hiring a lawyer in some limited cases, as long as neither party has representation and there are no minor children involved. But most divorces, particularly those involving dependent children and/or complicated property issues, go more favorably with the counsel of a divorce attorney.
And if your estranged spouse has an attorney, it’s always wise to hire one yourself.
Terms to Know
• Custody: Having rights to your child. Custody can be either legal, which means that you have the right to make important decisions about your child’s welfare, or physical, which means that the child lives with and is raised by you.
• Prenuptial Agreement: An agreement made between a man and a woman before marrying in which they give up future rights to each other’s property in the event of a divorce or death.
• Stipulation: An agreement entered into by the divorcing spouses that settles the issues between them and is often entered into the court’s final order or judgment and decree.
Issues Involved in a Divorce
At its most basic, a divorce is a legal process by which two parties terminate their legal and financial relationship. But each divorce is unique and most involve disputes over things like child custody or division of property. Here are the main issues a divorce attorney deals with:
• Division of Property: All property acquired by either spouse after the marriage date is considered “marital property” and is subject to equitable division.
• Alimony: Alimony, or spousal support, is monthly payment made by one spouse to another in accordance to either a settlement agreement or court order. Alimony is meant to correct for any unfair economic effects of a divorce.
• Child Support: Child support is a monthly payment made by the noncustodial parent to the custodial parent to be spent on the child’s needs.
• Child Custody: When a family splits up, the parents and the court must decide what is best for the minor children, including where they will live and how decisions are made. This is often the most difficult part of the divorce proceedings.
Divorce ranks just above death in severity of stress and is often combined with other stressors, such as marital discord, serious financial problems, a move, single parenting, multiple losses and litigation, all at once. It’s a life cycle crisis that presents a crucial period of increased vulnerability and heightened potential. With consciousness, the process can be edifying. Although not easy, it’s extremely rewarding, because, in the long run you feel better and learn from the experience, so you don’t have to repeat the same mistakes.
Stages Of Divorce
Application for the Divorce (Divorce Petition)
The divorce petition is a legal document filed in court by a spouse who seeks a divorce. Also called the complaint in some states, the petition informs the court of the filing spouse’s (called the “petitioner”) desire to end the marriage, and its filing with the court signifies the initiation of the divorce process. Once the divorce petition has been “served” on the petitioner’s spouse, it also notifies them that the divorce process has begun. While specific requirements and formats vary from state to state, the divorce petition typically contains the following information:
• Identification of the spouses by name and address;
• Date and place of marriage;
• Identification of children of the marriage;
• Acknowledgment that the petitioner and/or his or her spouse have lived in the state or county for a certain amount of time prior to filing the petition;
• Grounds for divorce;
• Declaration or request as to how the petitioner would like to settle finances, property division, child custody, visitation, and other issues related to divorce.
The divorce petition may ask the court to put temporary orders in place on certain family and financial issues while the divorce process is ongoing. If approved, these orders usually stay in effect until the divorce becomes final. These temporary orders may pertain to issues such as:
• Which spouse will have primary (physical) custody of the child(ren).
• Child visitation schedule for the non-custodial spouse.
• Payment of child support.
• Payment of spousal support.
• Which spouse will live in the couple’s house or primary residence.
• Payment of bills and other financial concerns.
Where to File Divorce Papers
Where you file for divorce is crucial. As with virtually all matters of family law, the divorce process is handled solely at the state government level, so the spouse seeking a divorce files a divorce petition in their state’s superior or circuit court usually in a county or district branch of that state court. Residency requirements vary by state, but will determine where the petitioner will be filing and Serving Divorce Papers. Utah requires that at least one of the divorcing spouses has lived in the state for the previous six months but in order to file in a given county, one of the spouses must have lived in that county for the previous three months.
Serving Divorce Papers
After filing divorce papers with the court, the petitioner (and their lawyer) makes sure that the petition is “served” (legally delivered) on the other spouse. Each state has strict requirements for serving legal documents, including the different methods of service that are available, so it’s important that service be done right in order for the divorce to validly proceed. Either you or your spouse will need to begin the divorce proceedings by completing the Divorce Petition and submitting this to the Court. The person who completes and submits this document is called the Petitioner. The Divorce Petition will need to prove that the marriage has irretrievably broken down, and must also state the reason for this breakdown. If you are completing the Divorce Petition, you should also consider whether you wish to apply for a Financial Order for the benefit of yourself and/or any children of the family. In certain circumstances, the Petitioner may also wish to apply to the Court to claim the divorce costs back from the Respondent. Once the Divorce Petition is completed, it will be lodged with your local regional divorce centre for the Court to administer. There is usually a Court Fee of £550 which is payable to the Court (unless your financial circumstances mean you are exempt, or entitled to a reduction, from the Court Fee.)
Acknowledgement of Service
The acknowledgement of service is the form that the respondent must complete and send to the court, in order to acknowledge receipt of the divorce petition. On the acknowledgement of service form, the respondent will have to say if they agree with the divorce, whether they intend to defend the divorce (more on this later) and whether they object to paying the costs (if the petitioner has claimed costs). In every divorce there is a ‘petitioner’ and a ‘respondent’. The petitioner is the person who initiates the divorce process. The other party is the respondent. Once the petitioner has filed for divorce and the application has been checked, the court will send the respondent the divorce application (also known as the divorce petition), a notice of proceedings and the acknowledgement of service form. Once the Divorce Petition has been submitted to the Court, this will be issued to the other person (called the Respondent) along with the Acknowledgement of Service. This document offers the Respondent the opportunity to respond to the contents of the Divorce Petition and confirm whether they wish to dispute/defend what is stated. They will need to return their completed Acknowledgement of Service to the Court and once this has been administered by the Court; the Petitioner should receive a copy with the Court’s seal upon it. If the Respondent fails to return the Acknowledgement of Service, a separate application may be required to enable to divorce to continue. This is because the Court will require proof that the Respondent has been served with the divorce proceedings. Alternatively your spouse may indicate that they are defending the divorce. In this case, there will be further steps required, so that the Court can decide whether the divorce should proceed.
Certificate of Entitlement
Once the sealed Acknowledgement of Service has been received from the Court, an application can be made for Decree Nisi. Decree Nisi is where the Court consider whether the contents of the Divorce Petition meet the law’s requirement for granting a divorce. If it is granted, the Court will set down a date for your Decree Nisi to be pronounced and the Certificate of Entitlement shall inform you of this date.
If the Acknowledgement of Service has not been returned, an alternative Order will be required from the Court, granting permission to apply for a Decree.
Decree Absolute is the final stage of the divorce and, once pronounced, this means that your marriage has ended. The application for Decree Absolute can only be lodged with the Court following a wait of 6 weeks and once your Decree has been pronounced. You should therefore keep your certificate of decree absolute in a safe place as you will be required to show an original copy of it, to prove your marital status if required. It is also a good idea to keep a record of your court number so that, in the event you misplace your original decree absolute document, you can apply to the court for another copy by quoting the court number. Although the Decree Absolute will bring your marriage to an end, it is usually best not to apply for Decree Absolute until any on-going financial proceedings have been completed. If you have not already started financial proceedings, you may wish to speak with a Divorce Solicitor to help you decide whether this is something you should consider before applying for Decree Absolute. While the divorce process is generally the same for most people, the length of time it takes can vary dramatically. This depends on factors including whether the divorce is contested, how long the Regional Divorce Court takes to administer the divorce and how quickly documents are completed and returned. You will need to wait a minimum of 43 days (six weeks and one day) after the issue of your decree nisi or conditional order before you can apply to the court for your decree absolute. It is important to note that applications sent too soon run the risk of being rejected by the court. Once your decree absolute application has been received by the court, your divorce will be finalized within approximately two to three weeks. This is the usual amount of time it takes to receive your decree absolute certificate, the final piece of paper you need to prove you are officially divorced and free to remarry. Once you have received your decree absolute, it is official that you are now legally divorced.
Divorce Things To Do
There are, however, still lots of practical things you need to think about doing to make your divorce final and to register your new status, going forward.
• Changing your Will, especially if you have the intention of remarrying
• Applying for a new passport and driving license
• Informing your mortgage lender
• Closing any joint bank accounts
• Changing personal contact details for bank accounts, credit cards, utility bills and insurance policies
• Notifying HM Revenue & Customs
• Informing your children’s school.
Free Initial Consultation with Lawyer
It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when. Legal problems come to everyone. Whether it’s your son who gets in a car wreck, your uncle who loses his job and needs to file for bankruptcy, your sister’s brother who’s getting divorced, or a grandparent that passes away without a will -all of us have legal issues and questions that arise. So when you have a law question, call Ascent Law for your free consultation (801) 676-5506. We want to help you!
8833 S. Redwood Road, Suite C
West Jordan, Utah
84088 United States
Telephone: (801) 676-5506