General Divorce Laws Explained

Each U.S. state has individual divorce laws and requirements that must be met in order to legally divorce.Divorce laws can vary from state to state, and in some states the divorce laws can vary from county to county.

 

Residency Requirements:

Residency requirements outline who is eligible to file for divorce in a state or county.

To begin the divorce process, a spouse must have already met that state’s residency requirement. Most states have a residency requirement of 6 months to become a resident of that state.

Grounds for Divorce:

In order to obtain a divorce, spouses must cite a reason for divorce, called the grounds for divorce. There are two types of grounds for divorce. Each state has differing grounds for divorce, so it is advisable to refer to your state of residence’s divorce laws for accurate information.

  1. Fault Grounds for Divorce: This type of grounds for divorce holds one spouse responsible for the divorce. If divorcing under one of the fault grounds, proof of fault must be provided for the courts.

    Fault Grounds for divorce include, but are not limited to:

    • Adultry
    • Neglect
    • Cruel & inhumane treatment
    • Conviction or imprisonment

  2. No-Fault Grounds for Divorce- This type of grounds for divorce is fairly new, and is not adopted in all U.S. states. No-fault grounds for divorce does not hold one spouse responsible for the divorce.

    No-fault grounds for divorce include, but are not limited to:

    • Irreconcilable differences
    • Incurable insanity

Child Custody:

Child custody determines which parents will retain their rights to guardianship of the child. If the parents cannot decide on child custody the courts will make a decision with the child’s best interests in mind.

There are four types of child custody each U.S. state may offer:

  1. Sole Custody: Only one parent retains their paternal rights.
  2. Joint Custody: Both parents retain their paternal rights.
  3. Physical Custody: Defines which parent the child will live with.
  4. Legal Custody: Defines which parent will have full parental rights and decision making power concerning the child.

Child Support:

Child support determines if and how much a parent will pay the other for upkeep of the child. If the parents cannot decide on child custody the courts will make a decision. In some states, child support is paid through wage garnishment.

Child support determines if and how much a parent will pay the other for upkeep of the child. If the parents cannot decide on child custody the courts will make a decision. In some states, child support is paid through wage garnishment.

When ruling on child support, U.S. courts may consider factors including, but not limited to:

  • Mental health of all parties
  • Each parent’s ability to provide for the child
  • Wishes of the parents and child (if child is old enough)

Spousal Support:

Also known as maintenance and alimony, spousal support guidelines are different in each state. Spousal support can be award temporarily, as a lump sum, or for a set period of time.

When ruling on spousal support, U.S. courts may consider factors including, but not limited to:

  • Length of the marriage
  • Employability of the dependent spouse
  • Standard of living experienced during the marriage

Property Distribution:

Property distribution divides the marital property (such as real estate, financial accounts, etc.) between the two spouses. Spouses may collaborate and draft their own property distribution plan, but if an agreement is not reached the courts will rule on the matter. Each state has adopted different guidelines the courts must consider when ruling on property distribution.

When ruling on property distribution, U.S. courts may consider factors including, but not limited to:

  • Each spouses’ contribution to the acquisition and maintenance of the marital property
  • Each spouses’ economic circumstances
  • Length of the marriage

Venue:

There are a few places, or venues, where a spouse can file for divorce. Each state has specific divorce laws about the venue. Most commonly, the divorce papers may be filed in the petitioner’s or respondent’s county of residence, or in the county the spouses last cohabitated.

Mediation:

Mediation is the process of hiring a third party legal counselor to guide the spouses’ discussion of the terms of their divorce. Some spouses seeking a divorce opt for mediation so they may proceed with an uncontested divorce. Some states allow judges to order mediation during a divorce case.

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