Divorce Law

Divorce is the manner in which Americans legally end their marriages. When a marriage dissolves, the case may proceed as a no-fault dissolution. Every state allows a no-fault divorce, but some states require the couple to have lived apart for a specified period of time before doing so. If they own things together, spouses may divide their marital property. Alimony or spousal support may be ordered, and child custody, child support and visitation may be at issue. During a divorce, each spouse may be represented by their own divorce lawyer.

Fault vs. No-Fault Divorces

In the past, most states required people to allege fault when they filed for divorce. That means a judge who found no legally recognized fault would not grant the dissolution. Grounds recognized by courts under the fault system included:

  • Desertion of one or more years
  • Cruelty
  • Imprisonment of a spouse for a certain length of time
  • Adultery
  • Living apart for one or more years
  • Insanity
  • Bigamy
  • Impotence

In order to open up the ability of people to divorce for their own reasons, many states moved to the no-fault divorce model.

Under the 1970 Uniform Marriage and Divorce Act, the only legal ground available when trying to divorce was that the marriage was irretrievably broken. While some states chose not to adopt the act, most devised their own no-fault rules. Today, many states provide couples with a choice between filing for a no-fault divorce or alleging fault on the part of a spouse.

Property Division

How spouses divide their property depends on whether the couple lives in a community property or an equitable distribution state. In community property states, all property that the couple acquired during the marriage is considered to be the joint property of the couple and will be divided evenly between them after divorce. In equitable distribution states judges consider a number of factors to decide upon a fair division between the spouses. This division may not necessarily be 50/50.

Property that each spouse owned before the marriage is considered to be their own and usually won't be divided by the court. Other types of separate property, like inheritances given to only one spouse, gifts and personal injury judgment awards, are generally not considered community property. Divorce lawyers often help people determine which of their properties are exempt from division.

Child Custody, Child Support and Visitation

Some of the most emotionally fraught aspects of divorce law involve child custody and visitation. Regarding child custody, legal custody involves the right to make important decisions for the child while physical custody determines which parent the child will live with. The parent who's not the primary physical custodian will usually be granted visitation with their child. That parent may also be required to pay child support to the custodial parent in an amount set by the court.

Alimony or Spousal Support

Alimony or spousal support may be mandated by the court as part of the final divorce order. This type of support is often ordered when there is a big difference between the spouses' relative incomes. It may be granted for a limited period of time, or it may be ordered indefinitely. When determining whether to award alimony, judges often consider things like whether one of the parties gave up a career to stay home and care for the couple's children.

The information on this page is meant to provide a general overview of the law. The laws in your state and/or city may deviate significantly from those described here. If you have specific questions related to your situation you should speak with a local attorney.

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