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Understanding How Divorce Law Works
By: Jon Arnold, Tue Oct 16th, 2007
In the case where you are considering divorce, almost regardless of the reasons behind your decision, it is important that you be aware of just what is involved in obtaining a divorce in the US.
In general, the laws of each state set out specific reasons for a divorce which have to be proven before the court is allowed to grant it. This can be under a no-fault heading, an all-fault heading, and a summary heading. In recent years some less adversarial ways to approach to divorce settlements have emerged, like mediation and collaborative divorce, to negotiate mutually acceptable resolutions to conflicts for a couple.
At-fault divorces were originally the only way to dissolve a marriage, and people who had differences or problems were only able to separate, and were prevented from legally remarrying afterward. The state of New York is the only one which still requires fault to obtain a divorce. In an at-fault divorce, one party usually brings divorce proceedings against the other due to some breech of marriage regulations like adultery, abandonment or cruelty.
Comparative rectitude is the name given to a doctrine used to determine which spouse is more at fault in divorce proceedings when both spouses are found to be guilty of breaches. This kind of divorce can affect the distribution of property, and will allow an immediate divorce, especially in states where there is a waiting period required to obtain a no-fault divorce. A defense for this type of divorce can turn out to be expensive and is not usually practical since most divorces are eventually granted anyway, especially when a society comparable to that in the US is not interested in forcing people to remain married any longer. Remember, marriage in the US also has legal ramifications, so if you do not want to be married anymore, you need to get divorced, it is much more than simply taking the mental attitude of no longer being married.
Under a no-fault divorce set of rules, a marriage partner does not need to show that the other marriage partner did anything, or was at fault in order to obtain a divorce. Many common reasons for no-fault divorce can be incompatibility, irreconcilable differences, and irremediable breakdown of the marriage. In the United States, currently 49 states have adopted no-fault divorce laws.
In states that grant no-fault divorces, there may be a waiting period of up to a year before the divorce is considered final. Other requirements include mandatory counseling to see if reconciliation can be achieved if one party does not agree to the divorce, either dependent on an amount of time set by the court, or for a predetermined amount before the divorce may even be applied for,
A summary (or simple) divorce, available in some jurisdictions, is used when spouses meet certain requirements for eligibility, or can agree on important issues beforehand like if it was a marriage lasting under 5 years, there were no children (or, in some states, the couple have resolved custody and set payments for child support), there was minimal or no real property (there was no mortgage on a house or condo), the property owned by the married couple is under a threshold (around $35,000, not including vehicles), and the personal property of each spouse is under a set threshold (typically the same amount as marital property). A simple divorce where both couples agree on how the divorce should be handled and assets divided is also known as an uncontested divorce.
It is estimated that in the US upwards of 95% of all divorces are uncontested, since the two parties are able to come to an agreement (with or without lawyers/mediators) about the property, children and support issues. When the parties are able to agree and present the court with a fair and equitable agreement, approval of the divorce is almost certain. In the case where the two partners cannot come to an agreement, they may ask the court to decide how to fairly split property, deal with children and custody issues, and so forth.
Residency requirements to file for a divorce vary from state to state. In some states, like Colorado, residency requirements are very liberal to accommodate military personnel who have to move often for tours of duty, while other states, like New York, require that you live in them for a minimum of a year with the intention of making this your permanent state of residence. A spouse may separate, move to a state with divorce laws of their choice, establish residency, and file. However, this typically does not change the state in which property and other issues are decided, and it is possible for a court to decide not to hear a petition for divorce if it decides that it does not have legal jurisdiction to do so based on residency issues.
A final consideration to be made when considering where/if to file for divorce is the laws concerning the distribution of property and division of assets. States like Alabama are considered to be an "equitable distribution" state which means that all property acquired during the marriage is divided equally among the two parties. In other states, like California, assets can be awarded to a spouse from the other based on economic need, and in still others, like Alaska, even though it is an equitable distribution state, in some jurisdictions in the state, women have little or no rights to marital property. In some states, alimony is awarded to the stay-at-home spouse, where in others, alimony is paid by the spouse making the most to the spouse making the least, despite the one needing to get child support because they have actual custody.
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