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C HAPTE R 1
“I Want a Divorce!”
Seldom do people want to utter these words, but they’ve become frequently spoken and
heard in today’s world where 50 percent of marriages fail. There is no use philosophizing
over the whys of this reality but to say that divorce is real for many Americans regardless
of race, wealth, social circle, and religion. It’s unfortunate that marriage is an easier contract to
make than to break, but the best way to a clean and uncomplicated divorce entails reaching cer-
tain agreements with your spouse and setting a plan for your family’s legal breakup. And that
can also entail leaving the lawyers out and working hard at doing all the negotiating yourself.
Divorce is a state-governed transaction. Every state has different laws regarding how one
can get a divorce and what options are available for pursuing divorce. You are bound by your
state’s divorce laws and must abide by them for your divorce to be final. By having the right
information and the right attitude, you can settle your own divorce without many hassles—
and without leaving you bankrupt.
The decision about whether to file for divorce can be a difficult one. Knowing what is
involved and how to prepare for your divorce are the subjects of chapters 2 and 3. We start,
however, by introducing you to the basic laws that apply to divorce settlements throughout the
country. This chapter also lays the necessary groundwork for understanding divorce and min-
imizing costly mistakes throughout the process. Always remember that the more knowledge
you can obtain, the better positioned your family will be to emerge from your divorce quickly
and less painfully.
Knowledge Is Power
We will repeat this truth throughout this book: Knowledge is power! Repeat this statement out
loud to yourself and feel the confidence it gives you. Facing a divorce might make you feel
crippled, but do your best to keep things in perspective. Use the information in this book to
empower yourself and make good decisions for your future. Keep this statement in the back
of your mind as you move through these chapters. It will fuel you with the energy you need
to conquer your fears related to ending your marriage, do what you need to get done, and
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Fundamentals of Family Law
Family law is almost as old as humans. As soon as people started roaming the earth and inter-
mingling, rules had to emerge to help manage the dynamics of family life. Before formal gov-
ernments existed, when people lived together in tribes, cultures developed their own customs
or adopted rules from their deities. In Western culture, particularly after the Norman Conquest
in 1066, the church initially took the responsibility of regulating marriage and divorce. But as
the entities of church and state separated over time, civil courts and legislatures began enforc-
ing more control over family law. And eventually, the regulation of family law grew more and
more complicated. A woman, for example, cannot divorce her husband today by simply leav-
ing her husband’s moccasins outside on the doorstep, as a Pueblo woman could once do.
As with many legal matters, the advancement of our culture has led to more complex rules
and more hurdles to clear. Periodic legislative reforms have tried to simplify the rules, but for
the most part, we are stuck with a complicated system that we must navigate carefully. Part of
the reason divorce is so much harder to execute than marriage is that society would rather
support a marriage—the union of two people for the sake of a family—than sanction a
divorce. No matter how far we’ve come in our modernized world that attempts to separate
church from state, or moral ethics and values from the law, certain meshes still exist.
Family law is also known as matrimonial law or the law of domestic relations. Family law
is a general term that does not just involve separation and divorce but also includes the
requirements of marriage and adopting a child. Any relationship shared between a couple,
between two parents, or between a parent and child falls under family law. Family law can
also extend to refer to the various actions regarding violence between family, friends, or
The actions that come under the body of family law include the following:
• Dissolution of marriage (divorce)
• Legal separation
• Nullity of marriage
• Summary dissolution of marriage (a simpler form of divorce for those who qualify)
• Establishing parentage (also called paternity)
• Petition for custody and support of minor children
• Custody and visitation
• Child support
• Spousal support
• Domestic violence restraining orders
• Civil harassment
Because more couples have children outside of wedlock today than a hundred years ago,
paternity plays an important role in the family courts today. The issues that revolve around
paternity are nearly identical to the issues that revolve around divorce. We’ll explore the topic
of paternity in chapter 2.
Child Custody Laws
The court’s view of children has changed vastly over the past two centuries, flipping between
a system that once favored fathers having custody to mothers having custody. Now, the right
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Family law covers inherently emotional issues. It deals with marriage, separation, divorce,
adoption, and spousal obligations, as well as parental obligations. As society evolves and
changes its attitude or values, family law typically reflects those changes. For example, now
that more women work outside the home, the courts must take that into consideration when
deciding on alimony or who will serve as the primary caretaker of children. A woman is more
likely to pay alimony to her husband now than she was 30 years ago. Women are less likely,
however, to get sole custody of their children, since the courts view both parents as having
an equal right to share custody.
to have custody of children is generally shared unless the specific circumstances of a couple
dictate some other arrangement. Children are no longer considered property as they were
throughout much of history. In fact, some states prefer to use the phrase parental responsibil-
ity over custody. We’ll explore the different types of custody arrangements in chapter 4. There
is a difference, for example, between legal and physical custody. Shared legal custody—
whereby both parents share decision-making responsibilities for the children—is common
nowadays, but shared physical custody—whereby both parents split their time evenly with
the children—is often still impracticable except in the most amicable of situations.
Before the Industrial Revolution, children were essential participants in the family unit
as workers on the family farm. When a couple divorced, the father typically got the children
so they could continue working on the farm. But once men moved into factory jobs and
mothers began to take more responsibility for the daily caring of their children, the legal sys-
tem began to favor mothers as the primary caretaker. And by the mid-1800s, mothers were
typically granted full custody of their children in a divorce. Family law judges used a stan-
dard that was known as the tender years doctrine. Under this standard, a child of tender
years—under the age of eight—was automatically awarded to its mother. The only way to
prevent this was to prove that the mother was unfit to raise the child. The best interests of the
child standard has eliminated the tender years doctrine. Mothers are no longer automatically
awarded custody of young children, but some states still make use of the tender years doc-
trine, without calling it such.
Not until the 1960s, with the civil rights movement and the migration of women from the
home to the workplace, did family law experience another shift. States began to view each
parent as equally fit for raising the children. States also began to favor shared or joint custody
rights. Men have also become more aggressive in asserting their legal rights to custody. There
are three times more men who have full custody of their children today than there were 30
years ago. From 1970 to 2003, the proportion of single-mother family groups grew to 26 per-
cent from 12 percent and that of single-father family groups grew to 6 percent from 1 percent.
Courts now assume that mothers and fathers share an equal responsibility for meeting
their children’s needs, both financially and emotionally. In almost all states, both parents are
presumed to have an equal right to custody, as well as an equal responsibility to support their
children. Neither parent automatically has a superior legal
right to custody. Moreover, one parent may not have to show
the other to be unfit in order to obtain custody. If a judge
In many states, such as Colorado,
must decide how custody arrangements will work, the court
the term custody has been replaced
will consider the children’s best interests, including the chil-
with parental responsibility.
dren’s relationship with each other and with their parents; the
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children’s adjustment to home, school, and community; the mental and physical health of all
children and their parents; and, in certain circumstances, the wishes of the child or children.
Most Divorces Avoid the Courtroom Battle
When you seek a divorce, you hope to avoid the proverbial divorce court that gets dramatized
on television. You will be bound by the family laws of your state and have to comply with the
legal system, but you do not necessarily end up in an actual courtroom before a judge, with you
on one side and your spouse on the other. (And rarely do divorce cases get decided by a jury.)
A divorcing couple who can work out their divorce amicably can usually avoid the costly trip
to court. In fact, only about 5 percent of divorces end up in court; 95 percent of divorces hap-
pen outside the courtroom. Even in complicated or messy divorces you can find a way to avoid
the litigated divorce that will do nothing but cost you more money, anguish, time, and frustra-
tion. Couples with children should avoid litigated divorces. This book will show you how to
resolve all of your divorce issues, including the most troubling or combative. If you do have to
appear in court, it will be brief, and it will not entail arguing over major issues so that a judge
can decide what will happen in your future.
What Is Marriage Anyway?
Marriage is more than a romantic gesture. It’s more than a union of two people under one roof
who share assets, offspring, and a last name. Marriage is a public, legal commitment and not
merely a private exchange of sentimental wishes. Marriage is also a legal contract that
encompasses a legal, financial, and social relationship. It requires a license from your state,
which gets filed in a government office, usually the county clerk’s office. Marriage does not
entail as many qualifications as divorce. Any adult (defined by each state) can obtain a mar-
riage license with the proper signatures and proof of blood work (if even required by that
state), participate in a ceremony with any witness, and be considered married. Reversing this
process, however, is not so easy. And the longer you are married, the harder it gets to break
that contract. A married person assumes certain responsibilities that often get glossed over
during an elaborate service and forgotten during troubled times or when contemplating
divorce. Some of those obligations include the following:
• Supporting your spouse financially—through good times and bad
• Giving some—if not all—of your assets to your spouse at your death
• Allowing your spouse a right to certain retirement, pension, Social Security, or other
• Caring for your spouse and making decisions for him or her if he or she cannot, such as
when your spouse is on life support
• Assuming responsibility for shared debt
• Sharing all acquired assets and income acquired during the marriage, no matter who is
responsible for bringing that income in or acquiring that asset
All the property (assets) that you and your spouse acquire during your marriage is presumed
to be marital property, regardless of whose name is on the asset. (A common misperception is
that you can keep things from your spouse by keeping his or her name off it. This is not true.)
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Most states define marriage as a civil contract between a man and a woman to become
husband and wife. When a man and a woman marry, their relationship acquires a legal status.
According to the United States Supreme Court in an 1888 case, “The relation once formed,
the law steps in and holds the parties to various obligations and liabilities.” It is because of
these obligations and liabilities that divorce can be difficult. The rights and obligations of
married persons are not the same as those of single persons. Married people share rights
that single people do not have with anyone else. For example, married people may have
rights to their partner’s property and future income, they may be responsible for each other’s
debts, and they are subject to different tax rates than single persons. State and federal laws
determine the scope of the married person’s new rights and duties.
If a marriage produces children, you assume even greater obligations. Beyond the cus-
tody, visitation, and support you must figure out in your divorce, you have obligations as a
parent that have nothing to do with your divorce. These include providing for your children
with food, clothing, shelter, and necessary medical care. Your children must receive a mini-
mal education, typically through high school, in either a private, a public, or a home-school
setting. You can choose where you want to live and how you want to raise your children, but
the courts will intervene if the choices you make for your children result in jeopardizing their
lives or threatening their livelihood. The laws exist to protect both you as a parent with rights
and your children with their own set of rights—regardless of a divorce. If one parent is not
meeting these legal obligations, the court will see to it that the other spouse gets custody of
the children. Parental obligations remain until children reach legal adulthood, which can be
18 in some states and 21 in others.
On a moral note, your job as a parent is to see your children mature into thoughtful, produc-
tive adults. Because so many divorces occur during children’s maturing years, it’s especially
important that you tune in to your children’s needs and concerns more than anyone else’s, includ-
ing your own. We will touch upon issues related to children throughout this book, and talk about
custody and visitation specifically in chapter 4. The important thing to keep in mind is that get-
ting a divorce when you have children is not about making a good decision for yourself—it’s
about making good decisions for you and your children. Divorcing parents who neglect the needs
of their children spend a lifetime trying to resolve perpetual problems.
In most people’s eyes, marriage is a private bond between two people, but it is also an
important social, legal, and as some would say, financial institution. Because of the assumed
obligations of marriage, ending a marriage requires terminating these obligations in a man-
ner that is fair for both people involved.
Three states now offer so-called covenant marriages, which are optional forms of marriage
that make divorce more difficult to obtain. They are designed to combat the divorce rate. In
general, covenant marriage laws lay ground rules that limit reasons for divorce to spousal or
child abuse, imprisonment for a felony, and infidelity. And before most divorces can be filed,
couples are usually required to seek counseling during a mandatory waiting period that
can, in some cases, last up to two years. The states that allow covenant marriages include
Arkansas, Arizona, and Louisiana. Twenty-five other states have proposed such laws, and the
idea of covenant marriages is gaining popularity across the country.
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Despite the divorce reforms of the 1970s that gave us no-fault options, some states have
attempted to reverse the process of making divorces easy by taking away the no-fault option
and permitting fault divorces only. This makes divorce more difficult, costly, and complicated.
The result? Fewer divorces. States have also proposed longer waiting periods for obtaining a
divorce in an attempt to prevent divorces. Because the concepts of marriage and divorce
have become a much-debated issue at the state (and federal) level in recent years, no one
can be certain what will happen in the future. Strategies to save marriages and prevent
divorces may not seem like concerns of the government, but until they become private mat-
ters managed outside of the law, people are bound by the laws and, unfortunately, the morals
and values that are inherently part of those laws. At some point, it may become just as hard
to get married as it is to get divorced. But only time and history can make that determination.
Later in this book, we’ll give you some information about situations that bring the legal-
ity of your marriage into question, such as common-law marriage rules or a case in which one
spouse was a noncitizen before the marriage or a couple got married in another country. For
now, this book assumes that you are legally married and have chosen to legally divorce. Refer
to chapter 7 for a discussion of atypical scenarios. That chapter will also explain how prenup-
tials and postnuptials work.
What Is Divorce?
Every 13 seconds, a divorce is finalized in the United States. By definition, divorce is a legisla-
tively created and judicially administered process that legally terminates a marriage. Divorce is
also known as dissolution of marriage. Traditionally, divorce was fault based, meaning one of
the spouses had to be at fault for the divorce. One spouse was labeled as innocent or injured and
was able to obtain a divorce from the at fault spouse. This system didn’t work because so many
marriages that fail have nothing to do with one spouse doing something wrong. Not all divorces
are the result of adultery, abuse, desertion, or some other concrete reason. Back when the fault
system was in place, one spouse had to allege wrongdoing by the other—a very adversarial sys-
tem that obviously was not flexible enough to include more frequent and realistic reasons for
divorce, such as irreconcilable differences, incompatibility, or just an undefined breakdown of
the marriage. In the 1970s, the no-fault system emerged. Today, we still have a little more than
a dozen states that allow fault divorce, while in the others you have a choice between the two.
No-fault divorces typically cost less and cause much less anguish for both parties involved.
In the court’s eyes, divorce is the breakup of a partnership, particularly a business partner-
ship. Just like a business’s breakup or dissolution, there are assets to be divided, financial
details to work out, and items or people to be shared, such as children. No matter how at odds
you may be with your spouse, divorce is a deeply emotional and personally challenging tran-
sition to make in life. The courts treat divorces as case numbers, and so long as you maintain
a positive outlook, a fair perspective, and a good support system (that does not include the
courts or a lawyer if you have one), you’ll be okay.
The decision to file for a divorce is just the first of many decisions to be made during the
process. Common initial questions include these:
• Do I need an attorney? What if things get combative?
• Do I need to be separated before I get divorced?
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• How long will it take?
• Should I worry about the fate of my children?
Divorce is a universal experience
today: One divorce is finalized
These are all good, relevant questions. By the end of this chap-
every 13 seconds, 75 percent of
ter, you’ll have their answers.
divorced people remarry within five
years, and 60 percent of second
marriages don’t last.
Do I Need an Attorney?
For uncontested divorces, you typically do not need an attor-
ney. If you and your spouse can come to an agreement about your divorce and the decisions
you need to make about your assets, debts, children (if any), and continued family support
(spousal and child’s), you may not need the involvement of lawyers. You will, however, need
to complete legal documents that set out the terms of your divorce and become accepted by
the courts. Some courts offer help in filling out the proper forms and knowing how to com-
plete the documents that your particular court wants. Most are straightforward and self-
explanatory, but we’ll give you tips for getting through the documents carefully. We’ll also
provide you with some sample documents from various states so you can see what they look
like. It’s not rocket science—but you do need to get your paperwork done right and know
exactly what you should ask for in your divorce. It can be hard to make major changes or fix
something in your final divorce decree if you forgot to ask about an entitlement you may
have had before the judgment was rendered. Later chapters in this book will explore all that
you may or may not be entitled to have at your divorce, which will help you understand your
local family court’s procedures and your rights.
If you think you need help filling out and completing your paperwork, you can always
visit a We The People store (see appendix B for a list of stores across the country). We can
also help you navigate the particulars of your local family court. Remember that the court’s
job is to review your documents and suggest the proper adjustments for finalizing your
divorce. The courts—not attorneys—are responsible for certifying your divorce.
What Do You Mean by “Uncontested”?
Lots of people think that uncontested means simply that both parties want a divorce. That’s
not what the word uncontested means. In fact, a divorce is uncontested only if both parties
agree to the divorce and all the issues involved in a divorce, such as who gets custody of
any children, whether and how any spousal support will be paid, who buys whom out of
the house, what will happen to the marital debts and assets, and so on. If you agree to get
divorced but you and your spouse are still fighting over the kids or the house, it’s not an
uncontested divorce—it’s a contested divorce. Contested divorces don’t always reach the
courtroom in a drawn-out legal battle. You can take your contested issues through mediation
and arrive at an agreement that turns your contested divorce into an uncontested one.
Generally, if you and your spouse have an uncontested divorce, you can proceed without
an attorney. But you do need to educate yourself about your rights and understand what
you may be entitled to in a divorce. That’s why you need this book, as it will give you the
information you should know so you can proceed confidently. And if you do decide to hire an
attorney to help, you’ll have a head start and know how to maximize the use of your attorney.
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Resolving the issues of your children, your money, and
Between your efforts and any
your assets may require the help of a neutral third party, such
outside help you get, such as that
as a mediator, but that does not always entail attorneys
of a mediator (to work out tough
and/or a judge. It may require a little more time and effort to
issues) and a legal document
work out difficult issues, but once you do, what remains is
preparer, you can do this yourself
simply asking the court to grant you a divorce. This all hap-
and avoid the high cost of attorneys,
pens with paperwork, so you may never need to actually
who tend to complicate matters.
appear in court. Many courts now make it relatively easy for
people to handle the whole process without a lawyer. The
more you can cooperate with your spouse, the quicker you can reach an agreement and get
your divorce finalized.
Despite what most people think, lawyers do not always make processes easier or quicker.
Lawyers—particularly divorce lawyers—may make your situation worse. Remember:
Lawyers are trained to argue, and they make a living by fighting for what they think is best.
In other words, they have built-in financial incentives to make cases difficult, long, time con-
suming, and combative. It’s nearly impossible to have one lawyer play a neutral role for both
spouses’ interests. Even amicable divorces with attorneys involve each spouse having his or
her own attorney. But because each attorney fights for one spouse’s best interests, clashes can
emerge that never would have had the couple avoided attorneys entirely.
Once lawyers are in the equation, there’s no telling where your divorce case will go. You
may find it harder to control your divorce and you may also find that the extra cost, frustra-
tion, and mounting arguments are not worth it.
Some circumstances command that you seek an attorney. Examples of such circum-
stances are the following:
• You have very large assets to divide.
• You have a very large estate (a total of what you own and owe).
• Your spouse has an attorney (you had planned on representing yourself, but you find
that your spouse has hired a savvy attorney who is ready to fight for everything you
stand to lose, such as assets, custody of your children, and necessary alimony).
• There is a real problem with abuse (spousal, child, sexual, or substance). A lawyer can
help you arrange for your protection, as well as protection for your children, if any.
• Your spouse is extremely uncooperative or is behaving dishonestly or vindictively.
• You believe your spouse may be hiding substantial assets that you may be entitled to.
When you take the uncontested route to divorce, you forgo discovery, or the process
whereby the court requires both parties to disclose all of their assets to one another. You
Family law attorneys come with a price. Hourly rates vary. An experienced family attorney can
charge $150 an hour or more than $300 an hour. Costs can skyrocket out of control—along
with your emotions—and before you know it, your divorce costs you more than you can afford
and you owe tens of thousands of dollars once it’s over. The average cost of a divorce today
is $15,000 in legal fees alone for each spouse (or $30,000 total). Divorce is second only to
the death of a spouse on the psychic pain meter, according to the experts who rate such
things, and has been known to trigger panic attacks and major depressive episodes.
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cannot ask for a share in something that you didn’t know
existed. (However, we’ll see that uncontested divorces routinely
Lawyers do not make divorce any
involve so-called disclosure statements, which are documents
easier or quicker. To the contrary,
exchanged between both parties that list all assets and debts.)
attorneys can create more problems
You may have the best intentions of representing yourself
than they help resolve. The more
in your divorce, but should your spouse be so unwilling to
people you have participating in
your divorce, the longer it will take,
cooperate with you that he or she hires a lawyer, you need to
and the more money you will spend.
seek an attorney who can fight for your best interests. This is
The risk of a messy, angry, and
especially true if you have children or are facing complicated
emotional divorce is greater once
financial issues. It is your legal right to ask the judge for an
lawyers enter the scene.
adjournment (a postponement) so you, too, can look for an
attorney. If you cannot afford a lawyer, call your local legal aid
office. If you qualify financially, a lawyer will, at a minimum, discuss the legal aspects of
your case with you and may continue to answer questions on an ongoing basis during your
proceedings. If the legal aid attorney’s caseload permits, he or she may take your case, usu-
ally at little or no cost. You can also inquire about a pro bono program, which is a program run
by your local county bar association that has a list of private attorneys who are willing to take
on cases recommended by legal aid. These services are also available at little or no cost. If
you don’t qualify for legal services or pro bono help, ask friends and family members for
referrals to trustworthy and reliable attorneys.
Always keep your children in mind, because attorneys can indirectly make the impact of
the divorce harder on them. Your children may need their own attorney to represent their
interests, and as the arguments among vying attorneys commence, the ones who suffer most
are the children. Children are profoundly affected by divorce, both in self-esteem and in their
sense of safety and comfort. Adding bitterness and strangers (that is, attorneys) to an already
bad situation has no benefits. It does lasting damage. You must also think about your post-
divorce life and how your children will continue to be part of both your and your spouse’s
lives forever—no matter how much you dislike your spouse. The more chaotic and unpleas-
ant you make your divorce, the harder it will be for your family to move beyond the divorce
and feel confident about the future. After all, wouldn’t you rather negotiate over such vital
matters as how your children will be raised, what happens to the family home, and how your
property will be divided than let attorneys do the haggling for you? You know your interests
better than anybody, and chances are, you know your spouse’s interests, too.
Divorcing couples sometimes lose sight of how the divorce will affect the entire family for a
long time. The emotions generated by divorce can boil out of control during the acute phase
of the divorce, which ultimately creates many scars that remain—and remain more so with
children. So even though the divorce may be over for the parent and that parent may move on
in life, the impact of the divorce on the children may not dissipate so quickly. This is why it’s
in your best interests to work hard at having a cooperative and lawyer-free divorce. We know
that divorce is an emotional journey that may bring you more bad days than good days, but
you’ll get through it eventually and regain your sense of well-being. If you stay calm and
cooperative throughout your divorce, you’ll remain in control of it and not become subject to
court rulings against your wishes.
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What You Need to Figure Out
Unlike when you got married, you have to figure out several things before you can divorce.
In our stores, we tell customers they have three items—A, D, K—to work out: assets, debts,
and kids. Marriage does not require a commitment to have children, a decision about future
marital assets, or a formula for dealing with future marital debt. Divorce, however, requires
that you set plans for and make decisions about the following:
• How you will divide marital property (the property you acquired while you were married)
as well as debt (what you jointly owe). As with marital assets, marital debt generally
includes all debt acquired during the marriage, regardless of whose name is on the debt.
• Whether or not one spouse will pay alimony (or maintenance) to the other, and if so,
how much and for how long.
• How your children, if any, will be shared, including financial and caring responsibilities.
These may seem like easy decisions to make, but once the conversation gets going, you
may find yourself at odds with your spouse, and before long you cannot come to any agree-
ment. Having a difficult time resolving these issues, however, does not mean you will land in
court and have an all-out battle with lawyers and a judge. With a little more time, patience,
and perhaps some mediation (which we’ll discuss), you can figure it out for the best of all
parties involved—including the children.
Types of Divorce
There is only one way down the aisle, but there many avenues to divorce. The goal of this
book is to guide couples through divorces that minimize the role of the courts and lawyers.
Even a messy divorce can avoid the drama of a court scene. Consider it the option of last
resort. The following are your choices when it comes to divorce:
• In agreement (uncontested): If you and your spouse can come to terms with the impor-
tant decisions and draw up an agreement, you can file a no-fault divorce and proceed
quickly. You can even hire a legal document preparer to help you complete your paper-
work professionally. This is the best way to get a divorce. It’s the healthiest way to get a
divorce, saving you pain and anguish.
• Not in agreement (contested): If you and your spouse are having difficulties reaching
an agreement on the major issues, there are other options to consider before going in
front of a judge. Mediation is the best and most popular option, which we’ll discuss in
chapter 3. Even though you may have disagreements at the start of your divorce, this
does not mean you cannot ultimately have an uncontested divorce. Once you work
through your differences, you can arrive at an agreement and proceed as if it were
• Go to court before a judge: If the court must step in and make decisions for you and
your spouse because you cannot reach an agreement, you will lose control. Courts do
not like to make decisions for warring couples, especially when it comes to parents
fighting over their children. A court will strongly encourage parents to make decisions
for their kids and even go as far as sending the parents to more mediation programs
before ruling. If you cannot reach an agreement through cooperation, mediation, and