Getting a Divorce
Divorce can be a lengthy process that may strain your finances and leave you feeling out of control. But with the right preparation, you can protect your interests, take charge of your future, and move on with your life. The checklist on the left will get you started.

Work with a Professional

We all need help sometime . . . especially during a divorce.

Even in the most amicable divorces, professional assistance is key. Whether you need a divorce attorney, a mediator, or other financial professional, finding the right advisor will greatly reduce your stress.

First things first: Should you hire an attorney?

There's no legal requirement that you hire an attorney when divorcing. In fact, going it alone may be a sensible option if you're young and have been married only a short time, are childless, and have few assets.

However, most divorcing couples hire attorneys to better protect their interests, even though doing so can be expensive. Divorce attorneys typically charge hourly rates and require you to submit retainers (lump sums) up front.

It's not unusual, for example, for an attorney to charge as much as $150 to $200 per hour and require an initial retainer of up to $2,500 to $5,000. The fee depends on the complexity of the case, the reputation and experience of the divorce attorney, and your geographic location.

You should know that if you're a homemaker or earn less income than your spouse, it's still possible to obtain legal representation. You can submit a motion to the court, asking a judge to order your spouse to pay for your attorney's fees.

If you and your spouse can agree on most issues, you may save time and money by filing an uncontested divorce. If you can't agree on significant issues, you may want to meet with a divorce mediator, who can help you resolve issues that the two of you can't resolve alone.

To find a mediator, contact your local domestic relations court, ask friends for a referral, or look in the telephone book. Certain attorneys, members of the clergy, psychologists, social workers, marriage counselors, and financial planners may offer their services as mediators.

Save time and money by doing your homework before meeting with a divorce professional.

To save time and money, compile as much of the following information as you can before meeting with an attorney or other divorce professional:

  • Each spouse's date of birth
  • Names and birthdates of children, if you have any
  • Date and place of marriage and length of time in present state
  • Existence of prenuptial agreement
  • Information about parties' prior marriages, children, etc.
  • Date of separation and grounds for divorce
  • Current occupation and name and address of employer for each spouse
  • Social Security number for each spouse
  • Income of each spouse
  • Education, degrees, and training of each spouse
  • Extent of employee benefits for each spouse
  • Details of retirement plans for each spouse
  • Joint assets of the parties
  • Liabilities and debts of each spouse
  • Life (and other) insurance of each spouse
  • Separate or personal assets of each spouse, including trust funds and inheritances
  • Financial records
  • Family business records
  • Collections, artwork, and antiques

If you're uncertain about some of these areas, you can obtain the necessary information through your spouse's financial affidavit and/or the discovery process, both of which are mandated by the court.

© 2003 Forefield, Inc.

Take Stock of Your Assets
 

First step in a divorce: Know what property is at stake. While you’ve been married, you may have accumulated property: furniture, bank accounts, investments, and even retirement accounts. Now the question is: Who gets what. Making an inventory is the first step in distributing those assets.

Make an inventory of your financial situation. This will help you to prepare in two ways:

  • It will provide you with preliminary information for an eventual division of the property.
  • It will help you to plan how the debts incurred in the marriage are to be paid off. (Although the best way of dealing with joint debt, such as credit card debt, is to get it all paid off before the divorce. Since this strategy is often impossible, compiling a list of your debts will help you to come to some agreement as to how they will be paid off.)

To take stock of your situation, here are the steps you might follow:

  1. Inventory:

    The current balance in all bank accounts;
    The value of any brokerage accounts;
    The value of investments, including any IRAs;
    Your residence(s);
    Your autos; and
    Your valuable antiques, jewelry, luxury items, collections, and furnishings.

  2. Make sure you have copies of the past two or three years’ tax returns. These will come in handy later.
  3. Make sure you know the exact amounts of salary and other income earned by both yourself and your spouse.
  4. Find the papers relating to insurance—life, health, auto, and homeowner’s—and pension or other retirement benefits.
  5. List all debts you both owe, separately or jointly. Include auto loans, mortgage, credit card debt, and any other liabilities.

If you are a spouse who has not worked outside the home lately, be sure to open a separate bank account in your own name and apply for a credit card in your own name. These measures will help you to establish credit after the divorce.

© CPA Site Solutions

Learn Key Divorce Terms
 

“Divorce” was never in your vocabulary when you got married. Nor were many other terms you’ll encounter in your divorce proceedings. It’s time to learn them.

Everything about divorce is complicated. Much of it is confusing. Face it, you aren’t an expert on divorce because you never thought you’d need to be. Our glossary of terms and phrases will help.

Alimony. Financial payments made to help support a spouse or former spouse during separation or following divorce. Also called spousal support or spousal maintenance.

Alternative dispute resolution (ADR). Methods of resolving legal disputes without going to trial, in a less adversarial manner, such as through arbitration or mediation.

Arrearage. The amount of money that is past due for child or spousal support.

Child support. Money that a non-custodial parent pays to the custodial parent for their child(ren)'s support.

Child support guidelines. Guidelines established by statute or rule in each jurisdiction that set forth the manner in which child support must be calculated, generally based on the income of the parents and the needs of the children.

Custody. Having rights to your child. Custody can be either legal, which means that you have the right to make important decisions about your child's welfare, or physical, which means that the child lives with and is raised by you.

Decree. The court's written order or decision finalizing the divorce, often issued in conjunction with the court's judgment.

Default. Failing to answer a petition or complaint for divorce. Failing to file an answer or appear in court as required can result in the court awarding everything requested by the filing spouse.

Defendant. The person against whom legal papers are filed, also sometimes referred to as the respondent.

Deposition. Part of the discovery or information-exchanging process of a legal proceeding, in which the attorney for the other party asks you questions, you answer with your attorney present, and a transcript of the proceedings is prepared.

Discovery. The information-exchanging process of a legal proceeding, including serving and answering interrogatories and requests for production of documents, and taking depositions.

Dissolution. Another word for divorce, which is the legal termination of a marriage relationship.

Divorce. The legal termination of a marriage relationship.

Domestic violence. Physical abuse or threats of abuse occurring between members of the same household.

Equitable distribution. A division of property that is fair in view of all of the circumstances. Equitable does not necessarily mean equal.

Interrogatories. Written questions served by the opposing party that must be answered in writing as part of the discovery process.

Joint legal custody. The sharing, by both parents, of the right to make important decisions about a child's welfare.

Joint physical custody. The sharing, by both parents, of the actual physical care and custody of a child.

Legal custody. The right to make important decisions about the raising of your child, on issues such as health care, religious upbringing, education, etc.

Marital property. Generally, all property acquired during the marriage.

Mediation. A form of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) for resolving legal disputes without going to trial, by the use of a trained and impartial third party who attempts to bring the parties together in mutual agreement.

Non-custodial parent. The parent who does not have physical custody of the child(ren).

Non-marital property. Generally, property owned by either spouse prior to marriage or acquired by them individually, such as by gift or inheritance, during the marriage.

Physical custody. The day-to-day rights and responsibilities associated with having your child in your home and being responsible for his or her care and upbringing.

Petitioner. Often, the person who initiates divorce or marriage dissolution proceedings, also called the plaintiff.

Plaintiff. The person who initiates legal proceedings, often called the petitioner in family law matters.

Premarital agreement. An agreement entered into before marriage that sets forth each party's rights and responsibilities should the marriage terminate by death or divorce. Also called a prenuptial agreement.

Prenuptial agreement. An agreement entered into before marriage that sets forth each party's rights and responsibilities should the marriage terminate by death or divorce. Also called a premarital agreement.

Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO). Pronounced "kwah-dro," an order issued by the court to divide retirement benefits.

Respondent. The person who answers a petition in a legal proceeding, sometimes also referred to as the defendant.

Restraining order. An order issued by the court requiring the subject of the order to refrain from doing something, often issued in conjunction with domestic violence or custody disputes.

Settlement conference. A meeting at which the parties and their lawyers attempt to settle the case before trial, often ordered by the court.

Split custody. A form of custody (generally not looked upon favorably) in which some or one of the parties' children is/are in the custody of one parent and the remaining child(ren) is/are in the custody of the other parent.

Spousal support or maintenance. Financial payments made to help support a spouse or former spouse during separation or following divorce. Also called alimony.

Stipulation. An agreement entered into by the divorcing spouses that settles the issues between them and is often entered into the court's final order or judgment and decree.

Visitation. The time that a noncustodial parent spends with his or her child(ren).

© 2007 FindLaw. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Understand the Process
 

Divorce is frightening. Make it a little less scary by knowing what’s in store.

When people decide to get a divorce, they usually don't know what to expect. Divorce is a complicated legal process, and it can be full of unpleasant surprises and frustrating delays. A general understanding of the process will help you feel more comfortable at an uncomfortable time.

The following chronology gives a general idea of how the average divorce proceeds. Your divorce may be a little different because of differences among state laws or because of specific issues between you and your spouse.

  1. To start off the divorce, one of the spouses gets a lawyer, who writes up a petition (also known as a complaint), a legal document that says why the spouse wants a divorce and how he or she wants to settle financial, custody, and other issues.


  2. The lawyer files the petition or complaint with the court.


  3. The lawyer or the court makes sure that the petition/complaint is served on the other spouse, together with a summons that requires that spouse's response.


  4. The served spouse has to answer within a certain time (usually about three weeks). The answer says whether or not the served spouse agrees with the petition/complaint. If he or she doesn't answer the petition/complaint, the court assumes that he or she agrees to its terms. The answer (also called a response) indicates how the served spouse would prefer to deal with divorce decisions.


  5. The couple exchanges documents and information on issues such as property and income. By examining this information, the couple and the court can decide how to divide up property and how to deal with child support and alimony.


  6. Sometimes, the couple can voluntarily resolve all their issues through mediation or settlement. Some states require that divorcing couples go through this process.
     
  7. If a settlement is reached, the settlement agreement is shown to a judge at an informal hearing. The judge will ask a few basic factual questions and whether each party understands and chose to sign the agreement.


  8. If the judge approves the agreement, he or she gives the couple a divorce decree that shows what they agreed to. If he or she does not approve it, or if the couple does not reach an agreement, the case will go to trial.


  9. At trial, attorneys present evidence and arguments for each side, and the judge decides the unresolved issues, including child custody and visitation, child and spousal support, and property division. Once the judge has reached his or her decision, the judge grants the divorce.


  10. Either or both spouses can appeal a judge's decision to a higher court. But it's unusual for an appeals court to overturn a judge's decision. Also, remember that settlements usually cannot be appealed if both spouses agree to their terms.

It's hard to say how long all these steps will take in your case. The entire process can take from as little as a few months, to as long as several years. Generally speaking, the more the couple can cooperate and agree to reasonable compromises, the smoother and faster the divorce will go.

© 2007 FindLaw. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Prepare Financially

Knowing the state of your pre-divorce finances will pave the way to a new financial life.

If you are considering—or facing—a divorce, it is vital to plan for the dissolution of the financial partnership of marriage.

This involves dividing the financial assets you have accumulated over the years. It also may entail living on less money than you have before. Taking the time to plan now will pay future dividends.

Estimate your post-divorce living expenses.

Figure out how much it will cost you to live after the divorce. This figure is especially important for the spouse who is planning to remain in the family home with the children; it may be determined that the estimated living expenses are not manageable.

To estimate these expenses, add together all of your monthly debts and living expenses, including rent or mortgage. Then total your after-tax monthly income from all sources. The remaining amount is your disposable income.

Here are some tips for handling the credit aspects of divorce, both in the planning stages and afterwards.

Cancel all joint accounts

First, it is important to cancel all joint accounts immediately once you know you are going to obtain a divorce.

Creditors have the right to seek payment from either party on a joint credit card or other credit account, no matter which party actually incurred the bill. If you allow your name to remain on joint accounts with your ex-spouse, you are also responsible for the bills.

Your divorce agreement may specify which one of you pays the bills. As far as the creditor is concerned, however, both you and your spouse remain responsible if the joint accounts remain open.

The creditor will try to collect the bill from whoever it thinks may be able to pay, and at the same time report the late payments to the credit bureaus under both names. Your credit history could be damaged because of the co-signer's irresponsibility.

Some credit contracts require that you immediately pay the outstanding balance in full if you close an account. If so, try to get the creditor to have the balance transferred to separate accounts.

If your spouse’s poor credit affects you

If your spouse's poor credit hurts your credit record, you may be able to separate yourself from the spouse’s information on your credit report. The Equal Credit Opportunity Act requires a creditor to take into account any information showing that the credit history being considered does not reflect your own.

If for instance, you can show that accounts you shared with your spouse were opened by him or her before your marriage, and that he or she paid the bills, you may be able to convince the creditor that the harmful information relates to your spouse’s credit record, not yours.

In practice, it is difficult to prove that the credit history under consideration does not reflect your own, and you may have to be persistent.

For women: Maintain your own credit before you need it

If a woman divorces, and changes her name on an account, lenders may review her application or credit file to see whether her qualifications alone meet their credit standards. They may ask her to reapply. (The account remains open.)

Maintaining credit in your own name avoids this inconvenience. It can also make it easier to preserve your own, separate, credit history. Further, should you need credit in an emergency, it will be available.

Do not use only your husband's name—e.g., Mrs. John Wilson—for credit purposes.

Check your credit report if you have not done so recently. Make sure the accounts you share are being reported in your name as well as your spouse's. If not, and you want to use your spouse's credit history to build your own, write to the creditor and request the account be reported in both names.

Also, determine if there is any inaccurate or incomplete information in your file. If so, write to the credit bureau and ask them to correct it. The credit bureau must confirm the data within a reasonable time period, and let you know when they have corrected the mistake.

If you have been sharing your husband's accounts, building your own credit history in your name should be fairly easy. Call a major credit bureau and request a copy of your file. Contact the issuers of the cards you share with your husband and ask them to report the accounts in your name as well.

If you used the accounts, but never co-signed for them, ask to be added on as jointly liable for some of the major credit cards. Once you have several accounts listed as references on your credit record, apply for a department store card, or even a Visa or MasterCard, in your own name.

If you held accounts jointly and they were opened before 1977 (in which case they may have been reported only in your husband's name), point them out and tell the creditor to consider them as your credit history also. The creditor cannot require your spouse's or former spouse's signature to access his credit file if you are using his information to qualify for credit.

A secured credit card is a fairly quick and easy way to get a major credit card if you do not have a credit history. Secured credit cards look and are used like regular Visa or MasterCard's, but they require a savings or money market deposit of several hundred dollars that the lender holds in case you default.

In most cases, the creditor will report your payment record on these accounts just like a regular bankcard, allowing you to build a good credit record if you pay your bills promptly.

Divide Your Property
 

The bottom line in divorce: Know what’s his, hers, and no longer ours.

It is common for a divorcing couple to decide about dividing their property and debts themselves (with or without the help of a neutral third party like a mediator).

But if spouses can’t agree, they can submit their property dispute to a court, which will use state law to divide their property.

Division of property does not necessarily mean a physical division. Rather, the court may award each spouse a percentage of the total value of the property. (It is illegal for either spouse to hide assets in order to shield them from property division.)

Each spouse will get personal property, assets, and debts the total net worth of which add up to his or her percentage.

Courts divide property under one of two basic schemes: community property or equitable distribution. Community debts are divided according to the same principles.

  • Community property. In Alaska, Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, Wisconsin and Puerto Rico, all property of a married person is classified as either community property (owned equally by both spouses) or the separate property of one spouse. At divorce, community property is generally divided equally between the spouses, while each spouse keeps his or her separate property.
  • Equitable distribution. Assets and earnings accumulated during marriage are divided equitably (fairly). In practice, often two-thirds of the assets go to the higher wage earner and one-third to the other spouse. Equitable distribution principles are followed everywhere except the community property states listed above.

How do we distinguish between community and non-community property?

Very generally, here are the rules for determining what's community property and what isn't:

  • Community property includes all earnings during marriage and everything acquired with those earnings. All debts incurred during marriage, unless the creditor was specifically looking to the separate property of one spouse for payment, are community property debts.
  • Separate property of one spouse includes gifts and inheritances given just to that spouse, personal injury awards received by that spouse, and the proceeds of a pension that vested (that is, the pensioner became legally entitled to receive it) before marriage. Property purchased with the separate funds of a spouse remain that spouse's separate property. A business owned by one spouse before the marriage remains his or her separate property during the marriage, although a portion of it may be considered community property if the business increased in value during the marriage or both spouses worked at it. If separate property is commingled with community property during the marriage, it may become community property, either in part or entirely, depending on the circumstances.
  • Property purchased with a combination of separate and community funds is part community and part separate property, so long as a spouse is able to show that some separate funds were used. Separate property mixed together with community property generally becomes community property.

Who gets to live in the house during the divorce?

If children are involved, the parent who spends the most time with the kids, or who provides their primary care, usually remains in the marital home with them. If you don't have children and the house is the separate property of just one spouse, that spouse has the legal right to ask the other to leave.

If, however, you don't have children and you own the house together, this question gets tricky. Neither of you has a legal right to kick the other out. You can request that the other person leave, but he or she doesn't have to. If your spouse changes the locks, or somehow prevents you from entering the home, you can call the police.

The police will probably direct your spouse to open the door and let you back in. When you both own the home, the only time you can get your spouse to leave is if your spouse has committed domestic violence and a judge grants a restraining order.

Whatever you do, do not claim domestic violence has occurred, just to get your spouse removed from the home. (Some people have resorted to this extreme tactic.) Once a judge realizes this has occurred, the party claiming violence may be asked to vacate the home, and the judge may be biased against him or her during future negotiations.

If you believe you are a victim of domestic violence, but are not sure, go to the Yellow Pages and call your local domestic violence hotline.

Copyright © 1996, 2000 American Bar Association

Marital or Community Property

Marital or community property is defined somewhat differently by different states, but it generally includes property and income acquired during the marriage. Wages earned during the marriage are marital property. A home, furniture, and cars purchased during the marriage usually are considered marital property.

When property is considered to be marital or community property, the court has the power to divide the property between the parties. Unlike separate or nonmarital property, one party does not have an automatic right to keep the property in the event of a divorce.

If title to property is held in the name of only one spouse, that does not necessarily mean that the property is not marital or community property. Assume, for example, that wife and husband both work and use their wages to purchase a car.

If title to the car is only in the wife's name or only in the husband's name, the car still is marital property because payments for the car came from marital funds (their wages). Even if one spouse bought the car with his or her wages, was the only driver, and held title to the car, the car still is marital property because payments came from marital funds.

As a practical matter, if husband and wife owned two cars and a judge had to decide who receives which car, the husband and wife probably would each receive the vehicle that he or she primarily drove. Nonetheless, if the property in question is marital property, the judge has the power to give it to either party.

A pension also is usually marital property, even though it may have been earned by the labor of only one spouse during the marriage. To the extent that rights to a pension were earned partially during the marriage and partially during a period when the parties were not married, the part earned during the marriage may be marital property and the part earned when the parties were not married may be nonmarital property.

Copyright © 1996, 2000 American Bar Association

Dividing Marital or Community Property

A few states, such as California, take a rather simple approach. Lawmakers in those states believe property should be divided equally because they view marriage as a joint undertaking in which both spouses are presumed to contribute equally to the acquisition and preservation of property.

The contributions may be different in nature, but they are treated equally. The wage earner does not receive more property than the homemaker, and vice versa. All marital property will be divided fifty-fifty, unless the husband and wife had a premarital agreement stating otherwise.

The California community property approach saves resources. Husbands and wives do not have to spend time and money arguing about who should get more property since the law of that state already has determined that community property will be divided fifty-fifty.

In California, there still may be issues to dispute, such as: What is and what is not community property? What is the value of a particular piece of community property? For example, if an actress divorces mid-way in production of a film, how does one value her interest in the film?

Although California may save resources by declaring an automatic fifty-fifty split, it deprives courts of the opportunity to fine-tune property divisions to meet the needs of individual cases. In several other community property states and in all equitable distribution states, courts are allowed to fine-tune property divisions. (That may or may not be an advantage, depending on the cost of fighting over what is "equitable" and one's faith in judges to make fair decisions regarding property.)

"Equitable distribution" means a court divides marital property as it thinks is fair. Like community property states, states applying principles of equitable distribution view marriage as a shared enterprise in which both spouses usually contribute significantly to the acquisition and preservation of property.

Unlike the community property approach of California, however, equitable distribution states are not locked into a fifty-fifty split. The division of property could be fifty-fifty, sixty-forty, seventy-thirty, or even all for one spouse and nothing for the other (although that would be very unusual).

Under equitable distribution, courts consider a variety of factors and need not weigh the factors equally. That permits more flexibility and more attention to the financial situation of both spouses after the divorce. However, it also makes the resolution of property issues less predictable.

Here are some examples of factors that are considered by states applying principles of equitable distribution:

  1. Nonmarital Property. If one spouse has significantly more nonmarital property than the other, that could be a basis for giving more marital property to the less wealthy spouse. As noted, courts are not obliged to give equal amounts of property to each spouse, but if the parties have sufficient assets to leave each party in a comfortable situation after the divorce, courts usually will try to do so.
  2. Earning Power. If one spouse has more earning power than the other, that could be a basis for giving more marital property to the spouse with less earning power. Courts reason that the party with greater earning power can regain money lost in a divorce more easily than the party with less earning power.
  3. Who Earned the Property. That can be a factor in favor of the party who worked hard to acquire or maintain the property. When courts apply this factor to a family business, it is common for a court to award all the interest, or a majority of the interest, in the family business to the spouse who operates the business. In that circumstance, the court not only is considering who earned the property, but also is seeking to disentangle the husband and wife from each other's future financial affairs. If the value of the business is approximately the same as the value of the family home, it is common for the court to give the business to the spouse who primarily operates the business and give the home to the other spouse.
  4. Services as a Homemaker. Courts recognize that keeping a home and raising children are work. In addition, those services often enable the spouse who is working outside the home to earn more money. Thus, services as a homemaker are a factor in favor of the homemaker. Some courts also apply a related concept of considering whether one spouse had impaired her or his earning capacity because of working as a homemaker. If a party can show his or her work as a homemaker resulted in missing the opportunity for training or job experience that could have resulted in higher income, that factor can favor giving more property to the homemaker-spouse.
  5. Waste and Dissipation. If a spouse wasted money during the marriage, that could count against him or her when it comes time to divide property. This factor is sometimes labeled "economic fault," and may be considered even by courts that do not consider other kinds of fault. Waste or dissipation could include gambling losses, significant sums of money given to family members (particularly over the protest of the other spouse), and money spent on pursuing romantic relationships outside the marriage. Business losses occasionally are considered waste or dissipation, but more often, they are considered an ordinary risk of doing business for which neither spouse should be penalized (particularly if the business deal would have benefited both parties had it gone better). In some states, before waste or dissipation can be a factor, it must be shown that the waste or dissipation occurred when the marriage was breaking down (a relatively short time before or after one spouse filed for divorce). In other states, waste or dissipation at any time during the marriage could be relevant.

Dividing Marital or Community Property

  1. Fault. Non-economic fault, such as spousal abuse or marital infidelity, is considered in some states, but most states do not consider it relevant to property division. In years past (particularly prior to 1965), divorces were based on fault. One needed to show fault by the other party in order to obtain a divorce, and fault was an important consideration in dividing property and setting support. The more modern view is that courts should focus primarily on the economic factors when dividing property and pay less attention to who-did-what-to-whom. Most courts and legislatures concluded that it was too difficult and not worth the time to try to sort out all the transgressions that may have gone on in a marriage, many of which are of a subjective nature.
  2. Duration of Marriage. A long marriage may be a factor in favor of a larger property award to the spouse with less wealth or earning power. The longer the marriage, the more likely a court is to view the husband and wife as equal partners.
  3. Age and Health of Parties. If one spouse has ill health or is significantly older than the other, that factor could favor a larger award to the sicker or older spouse. When the factor is mentioned by a court, it most often is in connection with an older wife whose ability to earn money is diminished by her age and health. The factor can apply to men too, particularly if the man is of an age at which it is not reasonable to assume that he can go out and re-earn a substantial amount of assets if his wife were given a majority of the marital assets. In such a case, an equal division of assets would be more likely.
  4. Tax Consequences. The tax consequences of property division can be considered when dividing property. If, for example, the sale of a house or the sale of stock in a company as part of a divorce will result in payment of capital gains tax, the court can consider that when dividing the property. Perhaps the person who will have to pay the tax may receive some extra property to compensate for the added tax that person will have to pay. Conversely, if a property settlement results in a tax benefit, the person receiving the benefit may receive less property because of that benefit. In order for a court to consider tax consequences, the consequences usually must be immediate and specific. The court generally does not want to speculate about possible tax consequences that may occur several years in the future.
  5. Premarital Agreements. A written premarital agreement, assuming it is valid, can be a trump card in dividing marital property. By entering into a premarital agreement, the wife and husband have agreed to waive their rights to have a court consider the usual cluster of factors in dividing property. Instead, the parties through their agreement have determined in advance how their property should be divided in the event of a divorce.

Guide to Family Law
Copyright © 1996, 2000 American Bar Association

Pay or Receive Spousal Support

Should you pay or get spousal support? Ask the judge.

When a married couple gets a divorce, the court may award "alimony" or spousal support to one of the former spouses. The purpose of alimony is to avoid the unfair economic consequences of divorce by providing a continuing income to a non-wage-earning or lower-wage-earning spouse, paid by the higher-earning spouse.

How alimony is determined.

Unlike child support, which in most states is mandated according to very specific monetary guidelines, courts have broad discretion in determining whether to award alimony and, if so, how much and for how long.

The Uniform Marriage and Divorce Act, on which many states' spousal support statutes are based, recommends that courts consider the following factors in making decisions about alimony awards:

  • The age, physical condition, emotional state, and financial condition of the former spouses;
  • The length of time the recipient would need for education or training to become self-sufficient;
  • The couple's standard of living during the marriage;
  • The length of the marriage; and
  • The ability of the payer spouse to support the recipient and still support himself or herself.

Alimony and Support Orders.

Although awards may be hard to estimate, whether the payer spouse will comply with a support order is even harder to gauge.

Alimony enforcement is not like child-support enforcement, which has the "teeth" of wage garnishment, liens, and other enforcement mechanisms. The recipient could, however, return to court in a contempt proceeding to force payment.

How long alimony must be paid.

Alimony is often deemed "rehabilitative," that is, ordered for only so long as is necessary for the recipient spouse to receive training and become self-supporting. If the divorce decree does not specify a spousal support termination date, the payments must continue until the court orders otherwise.

Most awards end if the recipient remarries. Termination upon the payer's death is not necessarily automatic; in cases in which the recipient spouse is unlikely to obtain gainful employment, due perhaps to age or health considerations, the court may order that further support be provided from the payer's estate or life insurance proceeds.

Alimony Trends.

In the past, most alimony awards provided for payments to former wives by breadwinning former husbands. As the culture has changed, so that now most marriages include two wage earners, women are viewed as less dependent, and men are more likely to be primary parents, the courts and spousal support awards have kept pace.

More and more, the tradition of men paying and women receiving spousal support is being eroded, and orders of alimony payments from ex-wife to ex-husband are on the rise.1

Tax aspects of Alimony.

Alimony usually is treated as income to the recipient and a deduction from income to the person paying alimony. This can result in a savings in the combined income tax payments of the husband and wife. The reason for the savings is that additional income to the wife (in the form of alimony) will be taxed at a lower rate than if it was treated as income to the husband.

Assume a husband and wife are about to be divorced. Before payment of alimony, the wife has a taxable income of $10,000 and the husband has a taxable income of $70,000. If they each were to pay taxes on these amounts, their combined tax liability would be $17,991. (The husband would pay $16,487; the wife would pay $1,504, applying the 1999 federal tax tables).

If the husband were to pay the wife $20,000 per year in alimony, his taxable income would drop to $50,000, and the wife's taxable income would increase to $30,000. Their combined federal income tax payments then would be $15,720 ($10,660 by husband and $5,060 by wife). The savings on their combined tax bills would be $2,271 over what would be paid if the alimony payments were taxable to the husband.

The wife's tax bills have gone up, but so has her income.2

Taxes: Alimony paid and received.

You may deduct the alimony or separate maintenance payments you are required to make to your spouse or former spouse, or to a third party on behalf of that spouse.

This topic covers alimony under divorce or separate maintenance decrees or written separation agreements entered into by you and your spouse or former spouse after 1984. It explains what is deductible if you pay alimony, and what is taxable if you receive alimony.

Alimony payments you make under a divorce or separation instrument, such as a divorce decree or a written agreement incident thereto, are deductible if all of the following requirements are met:

  • You and your spouse or former spouse do not file a joint return with each other,
  • You pay in cash (including checks or money orders),
  • The divorce or separation instrument does not say that the payment is not alimony,
  • If legally separated under a decree of divorce or separate maintenance, you and your former spouse are not members of the same household when you make the payment,
  • You have no liability to make any payment (in cash or property) after the death of your spouse or former spouse; and
  • Your payment is not treated as child support.

Child support is never deductible. If your divorce decree or other written instrument or agreement calls for alimony and child support, and you pay less than the total required, the payments apply first to child support. Any remaining amount is then considered alimony.

Property settlements, whether in a lump sum or installments, even though required by the divorce decree or other written instrument or agreement, do not qualify as alimony. Any payments not required by such a decree or agreement do not qualify as alimony.

You do not have to itemize deductions to claim your alimony payments. You may claim the deduction on line 34a of Form 1040. You must provide the social security number of the spouse or former spouse receiving the payments. If you don't, you may have to pay a $50 penalty and your deduction may be disallowed.

If you are the spouse or former spouse who is receiving the alimony, you must report the full amount as income on line 11 of Form 1040. If you do not give your social security number to your spouse or former spouse who is making the alimony payments, you may have to pay a $50 penalty.3

1Copyright © 2007 FindLaw
2Guide to Family Law
Copyright © 1996, 2000 American Bar Association
3Internal Revenue Service

Support Your Children

Who gets the children? That is the hardest question of all.

Often, parents work out child custody arrangements between themselves, either completely voluntarily or with the assistance of their attorneys or a mediator. When they are unable to agree, the court may decide based on the child's best interests.

Consider these custody decision factors

In deciding who will have custody, the courts consider various factors. The overriding consideration is always the child's best interests, although that can be hard to determine.

Often, the main factor is which parent has been the child's "primary caretaker" (more on this below). If the children are old enough, the courts will take their preference into account in making a custody decision.

Although the "best interest" standard does vary from state to state, some factors are common in the best interest analysis used by the individual states, including:

  • Wishes of the child (if old enough to capably express a reasonable preference);
  • Mental and physical health of the parents;
  • Religion and/or cultural considerations;
  • Need for continuation of stable home environment;
  • Support and opportunity for interaction with members of extended family of either parent;
  • Interaction and interrelationship with other members of household;
  • Adjustment to school and community;
  • Age and sex of child;
  • Parental use of excessive discipline or emotional abuse; and
  • Evidence of parental drug, alcohol or sex abuse.

Determine the "Primary Caretaker" of the child

In addition to the above factors, some states' family courts allow a preference for the parent who can demonstrate that he or she was a child's primary caretaker during the course of the marriage.

In custody cases, the "primary caretaker" factor became important as psychologists began to stress the importance of the bond between a child and his or her primary caretaker.

This emotional bond is said to be important to the child's successful passage through his or her developmental stages, and psychologists strongly encourage the continuation of the "primary caretaker"-child relationship after divorce, as being vital to the child's psychological stability.

When determining which parent has been the primary caretaker, courts focus on direct care-taking responsibilities, such as:

  • Bathing, grooming, and dressing;
  • Meal planning and preparation;
  • Purchasing clothes and laundry responsibilities;
  • Health care arrangements;
  • Fostering participation in extracurricular activities; and
  • Teaching of reading, writing, and math skills.

Depending on the state where the custody determination is being made, other factors may be considered as important when determining primary caretaker status. Even such things as exposure to second-hand smoke and volunteerism in the child's school have been considered in a primary caretaker analysis.

While, in the past, the primary caretaker preference seemed just another way to award custody to mothers, as more and more men share parenting responsibilities, this preference does not necessarily favor mothers.

When it is apparent that both parents have equally shared parenting responsibilities, courts once again will fall back on the "best interest" standard in determining custody.

Physical and legal custody

In most situations, physical custody is awarded to one parent with whom the child will live most of the time. Often, however, the custodial parent shares "legal custody" of the child with the non-custodial parent.

"Legal custody" includes the right to make decisions about the child's education, religion, health care, and other important concerns.

Joint custody

Some parents have chosen a joint-custody arrangement in which the child spends an approximately equal amount of time with both parents. Proponents of this arrangement say it lessens the feeling of loss that a child may experience in a divorce.

Critics, however, say that it is best for the child to have one home base, with liberal visitation allowed to the "non-custodial" parent. Because joint custody requires a high degree of cooperation between the parents, courts are reluctant to order joint custody unless both parents are in agreement and can demonstrate the ability to make joint decisions and cooperate for the child's sake.

Split custody

Another option, although much less favored, is split custody, in which one parent has custody of one or more of the parties' children, and the other parent has custody of the other(s).

Courts usually prefer not to separate siblings, however, when issuing custody orders.

Unmarried parents

When the child's parents are unmarried, the statutes of most states require that the mother be awarded sole physical custody unless the father takes action to be awarded custody.

An unwed father often cannot win custody over a mother who is a good parent, but he will usually take priority over other relatives, foster parents, or prospective adoptive parents.

How child custody decisions are made

In any situation where child custody rights are at issue, a number of key questions are raised. If you are going through a divorce, you will want to know whether your child will live primarily with you, and if not, whether will you will be able to make important decisions as to how your child will be raised.

If you are a close relative or family friend of a child who is not your own, you may be wondering if getting custody of that child is even a possibility.

Answers to these questions are at the root of most custody situations, but for parents and others without significant experience with child custody and the legal system, a fundamental concern is: How are custody decisions made?

Following is a brief discussion in response to that question.

Divorce and child custody decisions

If you are a parent considering divorce, or if you are already involved in the process, you are probably wondering how child custody and visitation issues are resolved in a divorce. In general, like all aspects of a divorce -- including property division, child support, financial division, and spousal support (alimony) -- child custody and visitation will either be decided by agreement between the divorcing couple (usually with the help of attorneys and mediators) or by the court. More specifically, custody and visitation decisions are typically resolved in one of two main ways in a divorce:

  1. Parents reach an agreement on child custody and visitation, as a result of:

    • Informal settlement negotiations (usually with the help of attorneys); or
    • Out-of-court alternative dispute resolution proceedings like mediation or "collaborative law" (usually with the help of attorneys).
  2. Court makes a decision on child custody and visitation (usually a family court judge).

Unmarried parents and child custody decisions

When a child's parents are unmarried, the statutes of most states require that the mother be awarded sole physical custody unless the father takes action to be awarded custody.

An unwed father often cannot win custody over a mother who is a good parent, but he can take steps to secure some form of custody and visitation rights.

For unmarried parents involved in a custody dispute, options for the custody decision are largely the same as those for divorcing couples -- child custody and visitation will be resolved either through agreement between the child's parents, or by a family court judge's decision.

But, unlike divorcing couples, unmarried parents will not need to resolve any potentially complicated (and contentious) divorce-related issues such as division of property and payment of spousal support, so the decision-making process is focused almost exclusively on child custody. For this reason, resolution of custody and visitation may be more simplified for unmarried parents.

If unmarried parents do not reach a child custody and visitation agreement out-of-court, the matter will go before a family court judge for resolution.

Especially when making child custody decisions involving unmarried parents, the family court's primary consideration will be to identify the child's "primary caretaker."

Non-parental child custody decisions

In some cases, people other than a child's parents may wish to obtain custody -- including relatives like grandparents, aunts, uncles, and close family friends. Some states label such a situation as "non-parental" or "third-party" custody. (Note: Other states refer to the third-party's goal in these situations as obtaining "guardianship" of the child, rather than custody.)

Whatever the label, most states have specific procedures that must be followed by people seeking non-parental custody. The process usually begins when the person seeking custody files a document called a "non-parental custody petition" (or similarly-titled petition) with the court, which sets out the person's relationship to the child, the status of the child's parents (living, dead, whereabouts unknown), and the reasons the person is seeking (and should be granted) custody.

Usually, a copy of this petition must also be delivered to the child's parents, if they are living and their whereabouts are known. To see examples of non-parental custody requirements and petitions in two states, click on the links below.

Child Support Basics

When married parents divorce or separate, or when only one of the unmarried parents of a child has custody, the court may order the "non-custodial" parent (the parent with whom the child does not live) to pay a certain portion of his or her income as child support.

This is not the only scenario in which child support might arise. Less frequently, when neither parent has custody, the court may order them to pay child support to a third party who cares for their child.

No matter what situation gives rise to the need for child support, it might help to think of the legal right to child support as being possessed by a child (which it technically is), for his or her proper care and upbringing, regardless of who actually receives child support payments.

The government's role in child support

Because in the United States nearly half of all marriages end in divorce and almost one-fourth of all children are born to unmarried parents, the regulation of child support is an important social issue. Whereas once the arrangement for and payment of child support was left to the parents, now state child support enforcement agencies are taking an aggressive role in seeking payments from non-custodial parents.

Frequently, the agency and court will work together to implement a child support withholding order, by which the child support amount is automatically taken from the payer's paycheck. If the child support payments become delinquent, the agency can implement other collection mechanisms, such as withholding support amounts from tax refunds, or seizing real estate or personal property.

Child Support Orders

Child support orders are issued by the family court, which bases the amount of the support on the state child support guidelines. These guidelines establish the amount of support that must be paid, based largely on the non-custodial parent's income and the number of children. The court will also take into account other relevant factors, such as the custodial parent's income and the needs of the children.

The court can deviate from the guidelines if there are significant reasons for doing so. The fact that the custodial parent has a high income does not itself justify deviation from the guidelines, because under the law children have the right to benefit from both parents' incomes.

Child support can be increased if there is a change in circumstances justifying the increase, such as an increase in the payer's income or the cost of living, a decrease in the custodial parent's income, or an increase in the child's needs. Similarly, the amount can be reduced if the circumstances justify the reduction.

Unmarried parents and child support

In cases involving unmarried mothers seeking child support, the first step may be to legally establish the father's "paternity" of the child. The father can do this voluntarily, but if he does not the mother may need to bring a lawsuit to establish paternity, which is usually done using genetic (DNA) testing. T

he court will order the "putative" (or alleged) father to submit to the testing if he does not agree to do so voluntarily. Once paternity is established, the court will issue a child support order in a manner similar to that in a divorce situation.

Interstate moves and child support

When the non-custodial parent moves to another state, the custodial parent may have to rely on the Revised Uniform Reciprocal Enforcement of Support Act to implement or ensure payment of child support. This Act provides the mechanisms by which a support order issued in one state can by enforced by the courts of another state.

Child support: getting a lawyer's help

If you are facing a potential child support issue or dispute, whether due to divorce or as a single parent, a family law lawyer can help by fairly and zealously representing either side in a child support proceeding. A family law lawyer will work to obtain the best possible result in the entry of a child support order, enforcement of an existing order, or in establishing or disproving paternity.

Copyright © 2007 FindLaw

Help Your Children Cope with Divorce
 

The dreaded questions: "Mommy, where’s Daddy?" "Daddy, where’s Mommy?"

Divorce is stressful for parents and kids alike. Although reactions will depend on a child's age, temperament, and the circumstances surrounding the split, many kids feel sad, frustrated, angry, and anxious — and it's not uncommon for them to act out because of those feelings.

Fortunately, parents can help their kids during a divorce. By minimizing the tension the situation creates, being patient as everyone adjusts to the new situation, and responding openly and honestly to your kids' concerns, you can help them through this difficult time.

Crucial to a child's ability to get through a divorce is the ability of the divorcing parents to maintain a civil relationship. Conflict between parents — whether they're separated, divorced, or still together — causes major stress for kids that can last well beyond childhood.

Tell your kids about divorce.

As soon as you're certain of your plans, talk to your child about your decision to live apart. Although there's no easy way to break the news, if possible have both parents be there for this conversation. And it's important to leave feelings of anger, guilt, or blame out of it.

Although the discussion about divorce should be tailored to a child's age, maturity, and temperament, be sure to convey one basic message: What happened is between mom and dad and does not have anything to do with the kids. Most kids will feel they are to blame even after parents have said that they are not. So it's vital for parents to keep providing this reassurance.

Give kids enough information to prepare them for any upcoming changes in their lives. Try to answer their questions as truthfully as possible, in a way that they can understand and process. Remember that kids don't need to know every last detail — they just need to know enough to understand clearly how their lives are going to change.

With younger kids, it's best to keep it simple. You might say something like: "Mom and dad are going to live in different houses so they don't fight so much, but we both love you very much and will try to help you get through this."

Older kids and teens may be more in tune with what parents have been going through, and may have more probing — and difficult — questions about things based on what they've overheard and picked up on from conversations and fights.

Tell kids who are upset about the news that you recognize and care about their feelings and reassure them that all of their upset feelings are perfectly OK and understandable. You might say: "I know this is very upsetting for you. Can we try to think of something that would make you feel better?" or "We both love you and are sorry that mommy and daddy have to live apart."

Not all kids react right away. Let yours know that's OK too, and there will be other times to talk, if they want to. Some kids try to please their parents by acting as if everything is fine, or try to avoid any difficult feelings by denying that they feel any anger or sadness at the news.

Whatever your child's immediate reaction, it's important to provide answers and reassurance about how life will change and what will stay the same. Be ready with answers to these questions, even before they're asked:

  • Who will I live with? Where will I go to school?
  • Will I move?
  • Where will mom live and where will dad live?
  • Will I still get to see my friends?
  • Will I have to go to a different school?
  • Can I still go to camp this summer?
  • Can I still do my favorite activities?

Try to be honest when addressing your child's concerns and provide reassurance that the family will get through this, even though it may take some time.

Help your kids cope.

Divorce brings numerous changes and a very real sense of loss. Many kids — and parents — grieve the loss of the kind of family they had hoped for, and children especially miss the presence of a parent and the family life they had. That's why it's common and very natural for some kids to hold out hope that their parents will someday get back together — even after the finality of divorce has been explained to them. Mourning the loss of a family is normal, but over time both you and your child will come to accept the new situation. So reassure kids that it's OK for them to wish that mom and dad will reunite, but also explain the finality of your decisions.

Here are some ways to help kids cope with the upset of a divorce:

  • Encourage honesty. Kids need to know that their feelings are important to their parents and that they'll be taken seriously.
  • Help them put their feelings into words. Children's behavior can often clue you in to their feelings of sadness or anger. Let them voice their emotions and help them to label them, without trying to change their emotions or explain them away. You might say: "It seems as if you're feeling sad right now. Do you know what's making you feel so sad?" Be a good listener when they respond, even if it's difficult for you to hear what they have to say.
  • Legitimize their feelings. Saying "I know you feel sad now" or "I know it feels lonely without dad here" lets kids know that their feelings are valid. It's important to encourage kids to get it all out before you start offering ways to make it better.
  • Offer support. Ask, "What do you think will help you feel better?" They might not be able to name something, but you can suggest a few ideas — maybe just to sit together for a while, take a walk, or hold a favorite stuffed animal. Younger kids might especially appreciate an offer to call daddy on the phone or to make a picture to give to mommy when she comes at the end of the day.
  • Keep yourself healthy. For many adults, separation and divorce is one of the most stressful life events they ever go through. That pressure may be amplified by custody and financial issues, which can bring out the worst in people. Finding ways to manage your own stress is essential for you and your entire family. Keeping yourself as physically and emotionally healthy as possible can help combat the effects of stress, and by making sure you're taking care of your own needs, you can ensure that you'll be in the best possible shape to take care of your family.
  • Keep the details in check. Take care to ensure privacy when discussing the details of the divorce with friends, family, or your lawyer. Try to keep your interactions with your ex as civil as possible, especially when you're interacting in front of the kids. Take the high road — don't resort to blaming or name-calling within earshot of your children, no matter what the circumstances of the separation. This is especially important in an "at fault" divorce where there have been especially hurtful events, like infidelity.
  • Get help. This is not the time to go it alone. Find a support group, talk to others who have gone through this, use online resources, or ask your doctor or religious leaders to refer you to other resources. Getting help yourself sets a good example for your kids on how to make a healthy adjustment to this major change. Help from a counselor, therapist, or friend will also maintain healthy boundaries with your kids. It's very important not to lean on your kids for support. Older kids and those who are eager to please may try to make you feel better by offering a shoulder to cry on. No matter how tempting that is, it's best not to let them be the provider of your emotional support. Let your kids know how touched you are by their caring nature and kindness, but do your venting to a friend or therapist.

Consistency and routine can go a long way toward providing comfort and familiarity that can help your family during this major life change. When possible, minimize unpredictable schedules, transitions, or abrupt separations.

Especially during a divorce, kids will benefit from one-on-one time with each parent. No matter how inconvenient, try to accommodate your ex-partner as you figure out visitation schedules.

It's natural that you'll be concerned about how a child is coping with this change. The best thing that you can do is trust your instincts and rely on what you know about your kids. Does they seem to be acting differently than usual? Is a child doing things like regressing to younger behaviors, such as thumb-sucking or bedwetting? Do emotions seem to be getting in the way of everyday routines, like school and social life?

Depression, moodiness, acting out, poor performance in school, use of alcohol or other drugs, sexual activity, or chronic oppositional behavior can all signal that kids are having trouble. Teens may have behavior problems, exhibit depression, show poor school performance, run away from home, or get into trouble with the law. Regardless of whether such troubles are related to the divorce, they are serious problems that affect a teen's well-being and indicate the need for outside help.

Don’t fight in front of the kids.

Although the occasional argument between parents is expected even in a healthy family, living in a battleground of continual hostility and unresolved conflict can place a heavy burden on any child. Screaming, fighting, arguing, or violence can make kids fearful and apprehensive.

Witnessing parental conflict presents an inappropriate model for kids, who are still learning how to deal with their own relationships. Kids whose parents maintain anger and hostility are much more likely to have continued emotional and behavioral difficulties that last beyond childhood.

Talking with a mediator or divorce counselor can help couples air their grievances and hurt to each other in a way that doesn't cause harm to the children. Though it may be difficult, working together in this way will spare kids the hurt caused by continued bitterness and anger.

Adjust to a new living situation.

Because divorce can be such a big change, adjustments in living arrangements should be handled gradually.

Several types of living situations should be considered:

  • one parent may have custody
  • joint custody in which both parents share in the legal decisions about the child, but the child lives primarily with one parent and visits the other
  • shared joint custody in which decisions are shared and so is physical custody

There's no simple solution to this. Although some kids can thrive spending half their time with each parent, others seem to need the stability of having one "home" and visiting with the other parent. Some parents choose to both remain in the same home — but this only works in the rarest of circumstances and in general should be avoided.

Whatever arrangement you choose, your child's needs should always come first. Avoid getting involved in a tug of war as a way to "win." When deciding how to handle holidays, birthdays, and vacations, stay focused on what's best for the kids. It's important for parents to resolve these issues themselves and not ask the kids to choose.

During the preteen years, when kids become more involved with activities apart from their parents, they may need different schedules to accommodate their changing priorities. Ideally, kids benefit most from consistent support from both parents, but they may resist equal time-sharing if it interrupts school or their social lives. Be prepared for their thoughts on time-sharing, and try to be flexible.

Your child may refuse to share time with you and your spouse equally and may try to take sides. If this occurs, as hard as it is, try not to take it personally. Maintain the visitation schedule and emphasize the importance of the involvement of both parents.

Kids sometimes propose spending an entire summer, semester, or school year with the noncustodial parent. But this may not reflect that they want to move. Listen to and explore these options if they're brought up.

Parenting under pressure.

It's hard to maintain your role as a parent when going through any kind of emotional turmoil. You might be tempted to depend on kids for emotional support or to ask them to report back on what the other parent is doing. Resist such urges — mothers and fathers should work hard to keep their parental roles in place. Kids, no matter how much they try to understand what you're going through, are still just kids.

Consistency in routine and discipline across the households is important. Similar expectations regarding bedtimes, rules, and homework will reduce anxiety. Wherever possible work with the other parent to maintain consistent rules — and even when you can't enforce them in your ex-partner's home, you can stick to them in yours.

It's important to maintain as much normalcy as possible after a divorce by keeping regular routines, including mealtimes, house rules about behavior, and discipline. Relaxing limits, especially during a time of change, tends to make kids insecure and reduces your chances of regaining appropriate parental authority later.

Resist the urge to drop routines and spoil kids upset about a divorce by letting them break rules or not enforcing limits. You should feel free to lavish affection on them — kids don't get spoiled by too many hugs or comforting words — but buying things to replace love or allowing kids to act any way they want is not in their best interests and you may have a hard time trying to reign them back in once the dust settles.

Divorce is a major crisis for a family. But if you and your former spouse can work together and maintain a civil relationship for the benefit of your children, the original family unit can continue to be a source of strength, even if stepfamilies enter the picture.

So remember to:

  • Get help dealing with your own painful feelings about the divorce. If you're able to adjust, your kids will be more likely to do so, too. Also, getting needed emotional support and being able to air your feelings and thoughts with an adult will lessen the possibility of your child shouldering the unfair burden of your emotional concerns. Confidants may include trusted friends or family members or a therapist.
  • Be patient with yourself and with your child. Emotional concerns, loss, and hurt following divorce take time to heal and this often happens in phases. That's healthy.
  • Recognize the signs of stress. Consult your child's teacher, doctor, or a child therapist for guidance on how to handle specific problems you're concerned about.

Many of the elements that help kids in intact families thrive and be emotionally healthy are the same ones that help those from divorced families thrive and be emotionally healthy. With good support, kids can and do successfully make this life adjustment.

©1995-2007 The Nemours Foundation