When I talk with people about getting a divorce, some people expect that getting a divorce will solve all their problems. Others think they are stuck in a hopeless marriage, and getting a divorce won’t make any difference.The truth is, divorce will change your life for the better and for the worse. So after handling many, many divorce cases, here is my perspective on the basic changes you can realistically expect—good and bad—when you decide to get divorced.
If you have children
Perhaps most importantly, divorce will change the lives of your children. A decree of divorce will contain specific orders governing the custody, care and support of your children, including a detailed schedule of when the children should reside with each parent. So when a marriage involves frequent conflict or physical or emotional abuse, the divorce will likely result in the children being happier, healthier and safer. In such cases, a parent-time schedule should be designed to ensure that the children spend the majority of their time in a safe, healthy and stable home environment.
Alternatively, when the children are equally bonded with both parents, parent-time schedules should be designed to allow the children to maintain an ongoing, meaningful relationship with both parents. However, no matter how well the parties work together, the children will experience significant change. They will be required to travel between parents and may be required to move to new neighborhoods, change schools, and adjust to new schedules and expectations.
Your financial condition and stability will also be significantly impacted by divorce. The resources previously available to your household will be divided between two households. Before petitioning the court for a decree of divorce, you should prepare for the economic impact of divorce.
Regardless of how much time you are allowed with your children, you will be required to financially support your children. In Utah, both parents are required to provide support until each child turns 18 years of age and graduates from high school. In addition to child support, both parents are required to pay half the cost of their children’s child care and medical expenses, including medical insurance premiums.
You may also be required to pay spousal support (alimony) to assist the other party in paying his/her monthly expenses. Alimony is a significant issue in long term marriages, where one party historically provided income for the family and the other party worked within the home. In such cases, the court may attempt to equalize resources to ensure that both parties are able to maintain a similar standard of living. In short term marriages, alimony may be awarded on a temporary basis to return a spouse to the standard of living he/she enjoyed prior to the marriage.
Utah law requires an equitable division of property. While the term “equitable” does not necessarily mean “equal,” it is common for the court to determine the value of all assets accrued during a marriage and divide that value equally between the two parties.
If you purchased a home during your marriage, one or both parties will lose their home and be forced to seek alternative housing. The court may order you to sell the home and divide the money from the sale equally. The court may also decide that one party should keep the home and pay to the other party his/her share of the value of the home.
If you have carefully contributed money to a retirement account, you will lose a portion of your future security to your spouse. As a general rule, anything paid into a retirement, pension or investment account by either party during the marriage relationship is divisible in divorce. Retirement plan administrators require a special order, called a Qualified Domestic Relations Order, to transfer retirement assets from one spouse to the other. After obtaining a decree of divorce, you or your spouse will incur additional attorney fees to draft the order releasing the retirement funds.
Personal property, including vehicles, jewelry, furniture and kitchenware, will also be divided. Once property is divided, you will be solely responsible for any loans or credit accounts associated with the property in your possession. You may incur significant expenses purchasing new furniture and appliances or taking sole responsibility for your vehicle loan or the credit card you used to purchase your new entertainment center.
As a divorce attorney, I work to obtain a decree of divorce that will minimize the financial impact to my clients and will allow them as much time as possible with their children. My goal is to ensure that my clients are in a position to move on from their divorce to the next phase of their life.
However, I am limited in how much I can do to help people recover after their separation. A decree of divorce does little to help clients or their children heal from the pain and loss of separation. Dealing with change can be difficult and can result in depression, anxiety and stress. After divorce, people may feel like they simply traded one set of problems for a painful new set of challenges.
Divorce does not end your relationship with your former spouse; it simply changes the nature of that relationship. In cases involving children or ongoing support payments, you will have to communicate and work with the other party for years after your divorce is final. A decree of divorce may limit your communication with your former spouse, but no court order can make your interactions with that person any easier or less painful. There is little a divorce attorney can do to ensure that your former spouse will treat you with kindness or respect, return your calls and emails or keep you apprised of your children’s daily activities. There is also no guarantee that the other party will abide by the decree of divorce. Often post-divorce litigation is necessary to force compliance with court orders.
Following divorce, you will need to understand that you cannot control the other person’s behavior. Rather, you can improve your own situation by treating your former spouse with civility, focusing on your children and embracing the opportunity to make positive changes.
Focusing on your children’s needs is of particular importance. Children often experience feelings of guilt and helplessness following the separation of their parents. Obtaining a decree of divorce can help create a set schedule and sense of stability. However, it may take several years for children to adapt to living in separate households. It is important for both parents to set aside their differences in communicating with the children. You should never ask your children to choose between parents, deliver messages to the other parent or discuss adult issues. It may be necessary to seek the advice and help of a mental health professional to help your children through the divorce process. This can also be helpful because divorce typically forces additional problems to the forefront. Whatever the situation, before deciding to get divorced, be realistic about what a divorce will and will not accomplish.
Don’t be fooled into thinking divorce is the solution to all your problems. But if your marriage is past the point of repair, it may be the only way to provide a better future for you and your children.