In my experience as a family law attorney, I’ve learned that a client facing an imminent divorce – whether my client plans to file for divorce or whether my client has been served with divorce papers – feels less stress and anxiety if I explain the divorce process and what to expect, even before the matter gets to court.
My clients are almost always emotionally distraught and disoriented by the initiation of divorce, regardless of whether they are the plaintiff or defendant. I try to reduce anxiety levels as much as possible by discussing with them issues that are common to almost all divorce cases. My clients gain a comfort level by knowing what will happen during the first few weeks of the divorce process.
In most cases, my client’s initial main concern is the living arrangements: Do I move out, does my spouse move out, or do we live together throughout the divorce? Often, the parties agree on a workable solution, especially if there are minor children involved. Usually, neither parent wants to upset the children further by uprooting them from their primary residence, so the parent with primary child care duties usually stays in the home.
Thinking ahead in this situation is particularly important since a divorce proceeding involving minor children cannot be finalized in less than 6 months, a requirement enacted to ensure that the welfare of the children has been adequately considered before the divorce is over.
Living arrangements may be less obvious when minor children are not involved. In these cases, it is more common for both parties to remain in the home to save money on expenses. In cases where there are issues of safety or harassment, as soon as the complaint for divorce is filed one of the parties may request sole use and possession of the home by filing a motion for temporary order.
A second major consideration is to determine how shared expenses such as the mortgage, utilities, insurance, food, and clothing will be paid. This is particularly important if there are minor children involved. In many cases, one spouse is the primary source of income, while the other spouse is the primary child care provider. Both parties, and any minor children, benefit when these issues can be resolved without court involvement. The parties will often maintain a joint checking account throughout the divorce process that can be used to pay for necessary family expenses.
If the parties can’t reach an informal agreement, one of the parties may petition the court for a temporary order to determine a number of issues while the divorce is in process: custody, parenting time, child support, and even the payment of basic family expenses.
It is quite common for the parties to a divorce to resolve a number of issues before the complaint for divorce is filed. But even in those cases, the parties still need to deal with some of the more emotional aspects of divorce, which I will outline in my next blog.