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Spotlight: Legal Resources

Closeup of gavel being slammed

Introduction: The Legal System & Divorce

Likely the most confusing and stressful aspect of any divorce is the legal system. It doesn’t help that a legal separation can cost thousands of dollars, making the process that much more frustrating. However, it’s typically necessary for couples to go through the legal system or some form of mediation to come to an agreement on major issues including child custody, spousal support, and asset splitting. 

Most types of divorces require the involvement of some form of the legal system, whether it be the courts, lawyers, arbitrators, or mediators. For instance, amicable, uncontested divorces during which neither party disputes the terms may only need a lawyer or mediator. Court appearances are unlikely. On the other hand, contested divorces usually involve disputes of marital property or custody. In addition to lawyers, judges and jurys may be involved, depending on the severity of the case. Most meetings are spent in court for hearings, motions, a trial, and more. 

To help you navigate your divorce, DivorceForce created this resource to provide everything you need to know about the legal system, including finding the right attorney, preparing for divorce court, and understanding child custody and child and spousal support. 

 

Divorce Lawyer writing document with laptop and spectacles in blurred foregroundHow to Find the Right Divorce Lawyer

One of the first steps in the separation process is securing a divorce attorney. However, with more than 76,000 divorce attorneys in the United States alone, according to industry and market research firm IBISWorld, it can be difficult to choose the one that’s right for you. It’s critical the lawyer you choose to represent your case understands your situation and will communicate regularly.

Check out these seven tips on how to find the perfect attorney:

1. Conduct Preliminary Research

Having options is important. Research multiple attorneys and schedule consultations with your top three choices. Find out everything you can about the lawyer’s expertise and practice. During the consultation, you’ll learn if their experience matches your wants, if they’ve taken cases similar to yours before, and if their personality is a good fit. 

2. Review What a Consultation Will Entail

Research what questions the attorney will ask during the consultation, so you can have answers prepared and get the most out of the session.

3. Gather Personal Documentation

It’s possible you may be tasked with bringing financial and personal documents. Even if it’s not required, it’s best to prepare them, anyway. This includes documents such as marriage certificates, monthly bills, deeds, pay stubs, and more.

4. Prepare Questions

Develop a list of questions you need answered during the consultation. For a list of questions, check out this resource.

5. Consider Resolution Issues 

Determine the best strategy for your divorce. This could be litigation or mediation. If you’re unsure of the difference, read about it from lawyer-turned-mediator Bryana Turner here.

6. Have Knowledge of What You Want From Your Divorce

Think about the assets that matter most to you and the type of custody you desire. Knowing what you want from the divorce streamlines the process. Your lawyer will also be able to secure these items if there is a clear goal established.

7. Set a Budget

Of course, cost is a major factor. When researching and meeting with attorneys, find out their estimated price so you can determine if they fit your budget.

Once you’ve found the right attorney, it’s important to know how court proceedings may play out, so you can properly prepare.

 

Divorce Lawyer preparing client for court with documents and gavelPreparing for Divorce Court

If your divorce is headed for trial, it’s essential you understand how the process works. First, the case must be filed with the court explaining your desire for a dissolution, plus additional relief such as spousal support, property, custody, restraining orders, etc. Then, the case must be served to your spouse, either by sheriff or personal delivery. If you’re the one being served, you will need to respond to the deadlines included. 

The second stage is the discovery process, during which lawyers research the facts. It typically includes interviews or written questionnaires. Spouses are asked to produce financial and personal documents, and may be asked to answer questions under oath. Depending on the type of case, friends and family may be subpoenaed to speak. 

If you’re seeking temporary custody, visitation or child support, a short hearing motion will be set. A custody hearing date and the final trial date are also set. Until such dates, you and your lawyer will talk to expert witnesses, attend a settlement conference, and prepare your testimony.

Depending on the emotional level of the divorce, the trial can last one day or more. The judge or jury will orally rule at the end of the hearing, and the lawyers will write the ruling into court orders. If any matters are not to your liking, you have an opportunity to appeal before the final decree is submitted in writing to the judge. Once the ruling is final, you and your ex must carry out the decree for years to come.

 

Divorce Legal showing document to client while sitting at boardroom style deskEverything You Need to Know About Child Custody

The biggest question during divorce for couples with children is: Who gets the kids? Generally, this matter can cause so much contention it takes the case to court, where a judge will wield all the power.

There are two parts of child custody:

Legal

The parent with legal custody has the ability to make decisions about the child(ren)’s care, including medical issues and religious upbringing. In cases where parents have joint custody, all decisions must be agreed upon by both parties.

Physical

The parent with physical (also known as residential) custody is responsible for the physical care of the child(ren). In short, it’s the parent the child(ren) lives with. In 50/50 custody cases, both parents spend equal time with the child(ren). If one parent is given sole physical custody, the child(ren) lives with that parent more than 50 percent of the time, and the other parent receives visitation. 

The type of custody each parent receives depends on several factors including relationship between the parent and child(ren), the ability of the parent to provide, mental and health needs of both child(ren) and parent, and whether or not there is violence or abuse. To assist you in receiving the custody you want, it’s integral you enlist a child custody lawyer. These professionals have in-depth understanding of the process, and can prove helpful toward your custody goals. 

Once custody is determined, you and your ex will need to uphold the decision. Sharing time with the child(ren) can be tough. You’ll need to decide where they spend holidays, who attends sports games, when kids can go to activities, and the days they can have play dates. To help with the adjustment period, hire a parenting coordinator. These specialists can implement plans, provide resources, facilitate communication, resolve conflict, reduce litigation, and alleviate stress for you and your child(ren).

 

Father holding childs hand with bokeh fall backgroundDetermining Child & Spousal Support

Another major area of conflict during divorce is child and spousal support. The difference? Child support is money paid to one parent from the other to provide financial support for the child(ren), while spousal support involves payments from one spouse to the other to equalize financial resources, post-divorce. 

So, how do you determine each?

The main factors the courts consider when determining which parent will receive child support and the amount include gross monthly income of each parent, cost of daycare each month, cost of medical insurance for the kid(s), the living arrangements, bonuses or commissions earned in addition to salary, costs incurred, and more. Both parents will need to provide recent W-2 tax documents, paystubs to show salary, and other documentation showing income. 

When deciding if a spouse receives alimony, the courts will consider the amount each could earn every month, expenses for each, and whether awarding alimony would enable each to continue living a lifestyle similar to what they had before the split (also known as standard of living). Additional details factored in include length of the marriage, length of time the recipient would need to become self-sufficient, and the ages and physical and emotional conditions of each.

To help you navigate the confusing legal process—from child support and alimony to divorce trials—enlist a divorce lawyer or other legal professional. DivorceForcePRO makes finding a legal associate who specializes in divorce simple and easy. Simply browse our listings of top-tier professionals.

 

To help you navigate the confusing legal process—from child support and alimony to divorce trials—enlist a divorce lawyer or other legal professional. DivorceForcePRO makes finding a legal associate who specializes in divorce simple and easy. Simply browse our listings of top-tier professionals.

Find a Divorce Legal Specialist