Top 18 Questions about Filing for Divorce

Divorce: The questions are many, the answers often complex, and the consequences of missteps potentially life-altering. It's a journey that requires knowledge, patience, and courage. 

To help you better understand this process, we've compiled answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about filing for divorce.

How do I start the divorce process?

Initiating the divorce process varies by jurisdiction, but it typically begins by filing a petition or complaint for divorce with your local court. This document outlines your grounds for divorce and your desired outcome regarding issues like property division, child custody, and spousal support. After filing, your spouse must be formally served with the divorce papers.

How much will my divorce cost?

It’s impossible to make a blanket statement about the cost of divorce because so many factors can impact that. For example, if you must pay attorney fees, court costs, or mediation costs, these amounts will raise your final bill.

If the divorce is uncontested (both parties agree), the cost could be relatively low. However, if it's contested (the parties disagree on terms), costs may escalate quickly due to prolonged court or mediation sessions.

Who gets to keep our most important pieces of property?

Property distribution depends on whether your state follows community property or equitable distribution laws. 

In community property states, marital assets are typically split down the middle, or 50/50. In equitable distribution states, the court divides marital property fairly, which doesn't necessarily mean equally. Factors considered include each spouse's income, earning potential, and contributions to the marriage.

How is child custody determined?

You may hear or read the phrase “the best interests of the child” often in divorce, especially when the topic of child custody is being discussed. 

If parents cannot agree on a custody arrangement, the court will step in to help create a plan for the child. Courts look at factors such as the child's age, health, and relationship with each parent, the stability of each parent, and any history of violence or substance abuse. Joint custody is commonly awarded unless it would be detrimental to the child.

How is spousal support or alimony determined?

The amount of alimony, or spousal support, to be paid is determined by a variety of factors. These may include how long you were married, the standard of living you had during the marriage, each person’s employment situation and earning capacity, and each person’s health and age. The goal is to limit any unfair economic effects of a divorce.

What if my spouse refuses to participate?

If your spouse refuses to participate in the divorce proceedings, you may still be able to get a "default" judgment of divorce. You'll need to prove that your spouse was properly served with the divorce papers and that they failed to respond or appear in court as required.

Suggested: True Default Divorce vs. Uncontested Divorce

How long does divorce take?

The length of the divorce process varies widely. An uncontested divorce can be finalized in a few months, while a contested divorce can take a year or more. Factors affecting the timeline include the court's schedule, the complexity of issues to be resolved, and whether the parties are cooperative or combative.

Can I date while separated?

While there's no legal reason you can't date during the divorce process, it's generally not recommended. Dating can complicate the divorce process, provoke negative emotions, and even impact custody decisions or alimony amounts if you're perceived as having extra funds to spend.

Suggested: The Truth about Dating before Your Divorce is Final

Do I need a divorce lawyer?

Not always. In fact, if your divorce is uncontested, it’s common not to use a lawyer. You may still appreciate some guidance through the process, though, which is one of the services Hello Divorce provides.

If significant assets, child custody, or spousal support are at stake – and you and your spouse cannot agree on how to proceed with these issues – you may benefit from the help of an experienced divorce attorney. You might hire an attorney to help you litigate, or you might meet with them for legal advice as you prepare your next moves.

How can I cope with the emotional stress of divorce?

It's important to seek support from friends, family, or professional counselors. Joining a support group and engaging in activities that you enjoy can also help manage stress levels. Remember, it's okay to ask for help.

What is the role of a mediator?

A mediator is a neutral third party who helps the divorcing couple negotiate and reach agreements on contentious issues like property division, custody of the children, and spousal support. Mediation can be a less adversarial and more cost-effective alternative to court litigation.

Suggested: Divorce Mediation vs. Lawyer: Which Option is Best for Your Situation?

Can I change my name?

Yes, during the divorce process, you can request to revert to your maiden name. The procedure for this varies by jurisdiction, but it's typically a straightforward part of the divorce process. Your name will be restored once the judge issues the final divorce decree.

How is debt divided?

Just like assets, debts are divided in a divorce based on your state's laws. Both parties are generally responsible for any debts accrued during the marriage. Individual debt (debt incurred before the marriage or after separation) is usually the responsibility of the individual.

What is a collaborative divorce?

In a collaborative divorce, both parties and their attorneys agree to resolve all issues without going to court. They work cooperatively to negotiate terms that are mutually beneficial. Collaborative divorce can save time and money, reduce stress, and result in more amicable post-divorce relationships.

Collaborative divorce is kind of like Hello Divorce plans, in that you have access to a ton of professionals who help you with what you need. The big difference is collaborative divorce is clunky and rarely streamlined with technology – you're rarely able to negotiate without several professionals (including lawyers) in the room. Plus, with a collaborative divorce, there is no incentive to get it done fast. It's often slow (although also usually cheaper than just lawyering up in the traditional courtroom battle).

Interested in a simpler way to collaborate on your divorce? With Hello Divorce you have access to those same amazing professionals (experienced lawyers, financial advisors, coaches, mediators, etc.), but you only bring them in when you need or want them.

What if we reconcile?

If you reconcile during the divorce process, you can typically request the court to dismiss the case. You won't get any fees back, however. If the divorce has already been finalized, you would need to remarry if you wish to legally reunite.

Can we live in the same house while separated?

Yes, it's possible to live under the same roof while legally separated, especially for financial reasons or for the children's sake. However, it's essential to establish and maintain separate living arrangements within the home to be considered "separated."

How do I explain the divorce to my children?

It's crucial to approach this topic delicately. Explain the situation in age-appropriate language, reassure them that both parents still love them, and make clear that the divorce isn't their fault. It may also be helpful to seek advice from a child psychologist.

Read: 5 Tips for Breaking Divorce News to Your Kids

What if my spouse and I own a business together?

If you co-own a business, its value will be considered part of your marital assets. You might decide to sell the business and split the proceeds, one spouse might buy out the other's share, or you might continue to run the business together post-divorce. The decision depends on your relationship, business dynamics, and legal advice.

More helpful resources:

Divorce Content Specialist & Lawyer
Divorce Strategy, Divorce Process, Legal Insights

Bryan is a non-practicing lawyer, HR consultant, and legal content writer. With nearly 20 years of experience in the legal field, he has a deep understanding of family and employment laws. His goal is to provide readers with clear and accessible information about the law, and to help people succeed by providing them with the knowledge and tools they need to navigate the legal landscape. Bryan lives in Orlando, Florida.