I once heard an acquaintance say that the happiest day of his life was the day he got married and the second happiest was the day he got divorced. From that statement I think it is safe to assume that his ex-wife would probably put the two in reverse order. Although my wife and I have been happily married for eleven years I am not so blind as to think all marriages work out. Sometimes there is just no reconciling marital differences. If you have decided to get divorced consider the following:
Consider Mediation First
As a general rule, the more the parties can work out themselves the happier each will be with the end result. Consider mediation. Mediation is an opportunity for each party to appear before a neutral third party to discuss issues such as alimony, child support, child custody, asset division, etc. Divorce mediators are skilled in drafting divorce agreements addressing each of these issues. If the parties are able to reach an agreement at mediation the agreement may be submitted to a family law judge for approval. In many cases, a hearing may not even be necessary for a judge to grant a divorce pursuant to a mediated divorce agreement.
All statements made during mediation are confidential and cannot be submitted before the court. Also, if the parties are unable to reach an agreement at mediation they do not have to sign the agreement. Some words of caution: If your spouse appears at the mediation with an attorney and you do not have an attorney, terminate the mediation until you counsel with a divorce attorney. I know numerous individuals who tried to avoid paying attorney's fees by negotiating with the other party's attorney. I have never seen a case where the unrepresented party came out ahead (or break even for that matter).
Custody and Visitation of Children
If the parties cannot agree on legal custody of the children, a court will determine who gets custody. The primary consideration in determining custody is what is in "the best interest of the children." Many states have different criteria for determining such interest. Consult a local divorce attorney in your area to find out what factors your state considers.
The spouse who is granted "legal custody" has the right to make decisions about a child's upbringing including the children's schooling, religion, medical care, etc. The parent who is granted "physical custody" has the right to have the child live with that parent. Often "legal" and "physical" custody are shared; but more often than not shared custody is the result of a mediated divorce agreement. The noncustodial parent is usually allowed reasonable visitation rights. The parents are usually left to work out their own schedule of time and place for visitation which allows the parents flexibility in determining the schedule.
Most states have legislated guidelines for determining child support based on the income and expenses of each parent. In determining child support, most states require the court to look at the needs of the child (i.e. health insurance, education, day care, and special needs), the income and needs of the custodial parent, the paying parent's ability to pay, and the child's standard of living before divorce or separation. Most states require each parent to fill out a financial statement before a court can make a decision.
Alimony (a/k/a spousal support) means payment by one spouse to another following a divorce. Alimony is usually granted when the marriage was of a long duration and one spouse earns considerably more than the other. Alimony is also usually granted when one spouse has left the workforce to raise the children or manage the household. Make sure you keep adequate records if you are paying or receiving alimony.