We Americans love lots of things. We love to fall in love, we love to get married, we “love” to get divorced, and we love to move. Almost all of us fall in love (at the very least with our pets), almost all of us get married, almost half of us who get married get divorced, and almost half of us born in one state end up living in another. When our country was formed none of this was true. Marriage was near universal, divorce was unheard of, and most people stayed put.
State rights, one of our nation’s founding principles, made sense back then. It makes far less sense today. But your state of residence determines all kinds of things. These include the penalties for crimes you commit, how much you pay in taxes, how much you can collect in welfare, what you can leave your children when you die, where you can buy beer, whether you can smoke pot, whether you can readily get an abortion, and the list goes on.
One of the biggest issues some married couples face when they move across state lines is how they will fare if they get divorced. (And, again, almost half will untie the knot.) The answer may be far better or far worse depending on the state and even the county in which you reside. I say “may,” because if you reach an amicable settlement, that settlement may be legally approved no matter where you live. But if you have a contested divorce and end up leaving it up to a judge, she’ll likely apply state or county guidelines that can be very different depending on the state or country. Indeed, since only a few states and counties in the country have formal guidelines, the guidelines are mostly those set by the local judge. These judges are, of course, influenced primarily by what other judges in their locality and state are doing.
Why ‘brutal’ divorce laws must change in OrtonvilleIf you are seeking a divorce, you may be tempted to file for divorce on your own using court provided documents or information from a book or website. While a do-it-yourself divorce may be acceptable in some situations, most people should consider hiring an attorney to represent their interests. Here are five reasons that a person should consider hiring an attorney during a divorce proceeding. Expert Advice An experienced attorney can help a person to make certain to receive everything that he or she deserves during a divorce. State laws do not necessarily support an even split of assets depending on the couple's situation. In many cases, a spouse is even entitled to retirement or other income that the other spouse will receive in the future. If your marriage has any complicated issues to settle, an attorney can be an invaluable resource. For example, if there is child custody and support issues, substantial income, debts, assets or future assets (an inheritance, etc.) then you should hire an attorney to protect your interests in a divorce. Reduce Stress Divorce is a stressful time for everyone involved. Hiring an attorney to complete a divorce is one way to reduce the stress of the divorce. While the attorney will need to gather information from you, he or she will take care of almost everything else, allowing you more time to take care of yourself and your family. You have enough things to worry about when you are getting divorced, let an attorney take care of the legal work. Avoid Mistakes There are two primary reasons that people make mistakes when completing their own divorce: the legal system is complicated and the stress of the divorce makes it difficult to think clearly. If you simply forget to address an issue such as medical or credit card debt or if you underestimate or overestimate the value of an asset, you can make a significant mistake in a divorce proceeding. Such a mistake may cause financial harm or will require future legal proceedings to correct. By hiring an attorney, you can rest assured that you case is being properly handled the first time and that you are avoiding costly mistakes that you might regret for the rest of your life. Clear and Binding Agreement Though a court will review any divorce documents that you present, the court may not understand what you are trying to do on each point of the divorce. This may result in a divorce decree that states something other than what you intended. By using an attorney, you can be certain that the legal documents presented to the court will accurately state your wishes and that the divorce decree will be free of errors or unclear language that may make parts of the agreement difficult or impossible to enforce. Avoiding Delays Though a person may use court provided documents to file for divorce, there can still be problems with completing the proper forms and providing adequate information and documentation. A person who goes to court without legal counsel may find that problems with the paperwork or other issues may result in a delay in the court's ruling. This may substantially delay the date that the divorce is final. By hiring an attorney, a person can avoid paperwork or other problems that could cause a delay and get the divorce completed as quickly as possible.
How the Affordable Care Act Drove Down Personal BankruptcyChecklist: Issues To Discuss With Your Divorce Attorney Download article as a PDF Divorce is complicated - legally, financially, and emotionally. Dividing up property a couple has acquired throughout their marriage (also known as marital property) can be one of the most contentious aspects of divorce. Luckily, divorce attorneys can help alleviate some of your legal and financial stresses by advocating for a division of property that works in your favor. If you have decided to retain a divorce attorney, you can help save your attorney time (and save yourself some money) by gathering important legal and financial documents together before meeting with your attorney. Doing this ahead of time gives your attorney an immediate and useful overview of the property and assets likely to be at issue in your case. Most importantly, it allows the two of you to work together to secure your short and long-term interests. The checklists below can give you and idea of what topics and documents come up in discussions with a divorce attorney. Be Prepared to Discuss Issues Relating to Children ____ Child support ____ Child custody, legal ____ Child custody, physical ____ Visitation with non-custodial parent ____ Grandparent visitation ____ Visitation with stepchildren ____ Health insurance for children ____ Dental insurance for children ____ Uninsured health care costs ____ College education ____ Residence in the marital homestead ____ Beneficiaries of life insurance policies ____ Claiming children as dependents for income tax purposes ____ Religious upbringing of children Property Issues ____ Equity in homestead ____ Other real property ____ Home furnishings ____ Business assets ____ Professional practices ____ Professional degrees ____ Retirement benefits (pensions, IRAs, 401(k) plans) ____ Motor vehicles ____ Recreational vehicles ____ Personal property ____ Savings accounts ____ Stocks, bonds, and funds ____ Compensation for contributions as homemaker ____ Hidden assets ____ Debts Spousal Support Issues ____ Entitlement to support ____ How much? ____ How long? ____ Continued health care coverage through COBRA Other Issues ____ Domestic violence ____ Order for protection ____ Child abuse ____ Parental kidnapping ____ Restoration of maiden name ____ Post-divorce nonfinancial support ____ Attorney's fees and expenses Documents to Have Ready ____ Individual and business income tax returns for the past three to five years (federal, state, and local); ____ Proof of your current income; ____ Proof of your spouse's current income; ____ Prenuptial agreement; ____ Separation agreement; ____ Bank statements; ____ Certificates of deposit; ____ Pension statements; ____ Retirement account statements; ____ Trusts; ____ Stock portfolios; ____ Stock options; ____ Mortgages; ____ Property tax statements; ____ Credit card statements; ____ Loan documents; ____ Utility bills; ____ Other bills (e.g. school tuition, unreimbursed medical bills, music lessons for children, etc.); ____ Monthly budget worksheet; ____ Completed financial statements; ____ Employment contracts; ____ Benefits statements; ____ Life insurance policies; ____ Health insurance policies; ____ Homeowner's insurance policies; ____ Automobile insurance policies; ____ Personal property appraisals; ____ Real property appraisals; ____ List of personal property (including home furnishings, jewelry, artwork, computers, home office equipment, clothing and furs, etc.); ____ List of property owned by each spouse prior to marriage; ____ List of property acquired by each spouse individually by gift or inheritance during the marriage; ____ List of contents of safety deposit boxes; ____ Wills; ____ Living wills; ____ Powers of attorney; ____ Durable powers of attorney; and ____ Advance health care directives. As you can see, the above list extensive -- yet, it is not exhaustive. Every divorce is different since every couple enters and leaves a marriage under different circumstances and with different assets. Therefore, to ensure no property is overlooked, it is always a good idea to have an open and frank conversation with your attorney regarding all of the property and assets relevant to your case. More Information For more information on marital property division, free to check out FindLaw's section on divorce and property. If you have more general questions, you may want to check out FindLaw's divorce section. Finally, if you do not yet have one, consider retaining a local divorce attorney. Request a Free Case Review with a Divorce Attorney The legal issues involved in a divorce are numerous and complex. Finding a trustworthy and competent attorney is key. You must also muster the diligence and courage to collect and to share all your private financial information with your divorce attorney. A great place to start is to immediately see an experienced divorce attorney for a free initial case evaluation to begin the process.