There are two types of divorce: (1) contested matters and (2) uncontested matters.

Uncontested Divorce:

The less your lawyer has to fight over in court, the less money their services will cost you, and both parties need to understand this. An uncontested divorce means that the parties agree on all issues such as equitable division of property and debts, alimony, child support and visitation if applicable. Each party must make full financial disclosure (i.e. divulge their finances) to the other. Among other things, the parties each need to prepare a Case Information Statement/Net Worth Statement and file it with the Court. If there are kids involved, a child support guideline worksheet must be prepared, along with a parenting plan which outlines the visitation/timesharing arrangements and other related matters.

In an uncontested divorce, the attorney draws up a Marital Settlement Agreement and the parties go to Court for a very short final hearing to put the matter through “on the record.” However, it is not always necessary for both parties to attend the final uncontested divorce hearing. The cost should be minimal compared to a contested matter, and the case can usually be wrapped up within a significantly shorter period of time when the parties come to an agreement.

Contested Divorce:

Unfortunately, emotions sometimes get in the way and it's not possible to calmly discuss matters with your spouse, or, you may decide after attempting to settle things that you must go to Court to get what you want and more importantly, what you deserve. If things cannot be worked out, whether one issue or many issues are in dispute, the Judge will ultimately have to decide on how things are to be decided. Perhaps the most important question a lawyer can ask at the initial consultation is whether there are any safety concerns on the part of any party. Unfortunately, some individuals react violently when advised that a divorce is being contemplated.

It is also possible that violence or an unhealthy psychological atmosphere for the children already exists. If so, you should speak with your attorney about the possibility of having your spouse Court ordered out of the house and away from you. Family or psychological counseling for one or all parties, including children, may be indicated to deal with this type of problem, or simply with the stress of divorce and the lifestyle changes that will occur.

While every case is unique, there are issues that are common to many divorces. If the parties own a home, real estate or other assets that were acquired during the marriage it is generally considered marital property and often divided equitably. If property was owned by one party before the marriage, that property may be considered non marital such that the Court may not award anything to the other spouse. However, there are exceptions to this, such as where the non marital property, money for example, is put into a joint account during the marriage. Another exception can be where the value of the non marital property grows during the marriage.

A party may also have no claim to property given exclusively to the other during the marriage, by a relative in a will for example. Property acquired during the marriage (including assets in pension/401K/IRA type programs) should be considered as marital property subject in general to a 50/50 division between the parties, but Courts also have the authority to assign responsibility for debts acquired during the marriage. The Court is usually required to order each party to pay an equal portion of the debts. The Court can order an unequal distribution of debt, but disparity in income alone is not grounds for an unequal distribution. If one party ran up some totally unnecessary bills, then they may be responsible for more than they otherwise would be responsible, but usually the Court will not sit there and determine who spent more money during the marriage.

Where the value of an item is in dispute, expert appraisers may be needed to give opinions about value. This is especially true where there is a business involved. If the business is considered a marital asset, a value will be assigned, and a spouse may receive a portion of the value. It should also be noted that Courts will generally not force the sale of a house where a spouse and minor children are living there, but often times will Order the property to be mortgaged or encumbered to pay legal fees and debts.

Once the parties separate they may live their lives as they choose as long as they do not interfere with the other. After separation parties are free to have a relationship with someone else if they desire.