Editor’s Note: This is the first article in a series on divorce. Upcoming topics will include spousal support, child support and custody. The information contained in this column is for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. You should contact your family attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular issue or problem. If you have a general question about how the law relates to your family, let us know! We cannot respond to specific legal cases and situations.
The reality that your marriage is over is difficult, even in the most amicable situations. So, here you are. For whatever reason, you are ready to dissolve your marriage. But where to start?
Do your homework
Maybe you have you seen the advertisements claiming you can get a divorce for $299. These low-cost divorces are generally suited for people with no children, no marital property and, really, nothing complicated. This is not most marriages!
According to Michelle Sommer, an attorney with the Carlisle law firm Abom & Kutulakis, a typical divorce starts at about $3,000 per couple. This amount will go up if the divorce is contentious, there is marital property or children are involved.
And couples who have included a stay-at-home parent where one partner handled all the finances have it especially challenging. For their protection, Sommer often tells potential clients, “You’re not ready. Go home, get your finances in order and then come back.”*
In that case, she advises them to make copies of every financial document available, including tax forms, stocks, 401K accounts and mortgages to create a paper trail in the event that money “disappears” during the divorce process. Any money in joint banking accounts is legally the property of both spouses.
It is completely acceptable to withdraw up to half of any money in these accounts–but not a penny more. Put this money in a separate bank account.
Then, if you don’t have credit, open a credit card to establish credit as an individual and open a checking account in your own name.
Dollars and sense
It’s also important to have an attorney. After you choose your legal respresentative, make sure you understand how you will pay for your legal fees.
Then, make sure you understand the process. Pennsylvania is called a Fault/No Fault divorce state. A Fault divorce claims someone did something wrong, like had an affair during the marriage. It takes longer than No Fault divorce. Allegations of wrong-doing must be proven.
There are also different processes when proceeding with divorce. For example, the Collaborative Process encourages compromising and removes the combativeness. It’s quicker and cheaper, but only an option when the parties are extremely amicable. Your attorney will fully explain these procedures and help you determine which one is best for you.
And if you have children, you will need to file an action for child support through the Office of Domestic Relations. This will help you with some of the children’s expenses while you resolve the divorce issues.
Divorce can become costly, complicated, and overwhelming. Sommer likens it to a death—even when the divorce is desired, there is grief, guilt and a sense of loss. Children often struggle. Counseling is very beneficial, especially for children, during and after the divorce process.