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9 Answers to Common Pre-Divorce Questions

If you’ve decided, whether alone or with your spouse, that divorce is the right move for your relationship, you probably have lots of questions. Some of the FAQs below will vary depending on where you live but will have you a good understanding of divorce law basics.

How long will my divorce take?

It depends. We know this is an unsatisfying answer, but we don’t want to lead you on, either. Some states have residency requirements where you must have lived in the state for a certain amount of time before you can get divorced. Certain states have short time periods, like Colorado at 91 days. Other states are much longer, like Massachusetts and New York at one year.

Some states impose a waiting period, requiring time to pass between when you file for divorce and when you can legally end your marriage. California, for example, requires six months to elapse between the date you file for divorce and when a judge can issue a divorce decree. Washington only requires 90 days to pass. 

This doesn’t mean your divorce is stalled during this time; it just can’t legally end before this time. In fact, the “waiting period” can be a great time to go to mediation to try to resolve any outstanding issues between you and your spouse. Mediation can also shorten the amount of time it takes to finalize your divorce.

Mediation can also help you get an uncontested divorce, which is almost always the quickest type of divorce unless you qualify for a summary dissolution (offered in California only). A contested divorce takes longer because you and your spouse will need to go to court to reach an agreement on things.

Do I have to take a pre-divorce class?

No state requires every divorcing couple to go through a class. In some circumstances, however, you may be required to attend a class. If you have minor children, the judge may require you and your spouse to attend parenting classes to better understand the impact divorce has on your children and how you can help support them.

Even if a class isn’t required, some can be helpful. You may be able to find classes online and even in-person support groups. While you may not think you need it, classes can be helpful, giving you the necessary support to get through a challenging time.

Will I have to disclose all of my finances?

Yes. Financial disclosures in divorce are required in every state. Even if you and your spouse agree on how to divide up your marital property, you still need to complete and file a financial disclosure

You must disclose every asset and debt, whether in your name alone or in both of your names. This is done to make sure each spouse is being truthful and not trying to hide assets from the other.

Can one spouse live in a different state during the divorce process?

While residency requirements vary by state, in most cases, only one of you must reside in the state where you want to get a divorce. So, if you and your spouse separated some time ago – and your spouse moved to a new state – you could probably file in either state. Just make sure you know the residency requirements for that state so your divorce petition isn’t denied.

What if I want a divorce but can’t find my spouse?

When you file a divorce petition, you have to serve a copy on your spouse. Even if your spouse agrees to the divorce and agrees with the way you want to divide assets and debts, you must still serve them.

Spouses who wait a long time after separation to legally divorce may lose touch and not know where the other person lives. If that’s the case, you can still get a divorce, but you must provide them notice through publication. This is commonly done by posting a notice in the newspaper where you live and the last known place your spouse lived.

Serving your spouse divorce papers through publication requires a court order. You’ll need to show the judge that you don’t know where your spouse is or how to contact them. If approved, you can then proceed with a default divorce. It’s worth noting, though, that default divorces make things like spousal support, or alimony, more up to the court’s limited information.

Will I lose my health insurance right away if we get divorced?

If you have health insurance through your employer, no, you will not lose it – but you will have to change your plan to remove your spouse. If you get insurance through your spouse’s employer, yes, you’ll lose coverage.

Luckily, this is a qualifying life event, so if you lose coverage, you don’t have to wait for an open enrollment period to get new insurance. You can get new health coverage immediately so you don’t have a lapse. Check with your employer, or healthcare.gov, or this page on COBRA insurance.

We want to split up. Which is better: legal separation or divorce?

Not every state recognizes legal separation so, depending on where you live, your choice may be made for you. Legal separation, where allowed, provides an alternative to divorce. You remain married and get to keep health insurance and file joint taxes, but you live apart. Many people choose legal separation over divorce when their religion prohibits divorce.

Alternatively, if you want to get remarried, you’ll need to get a legal divorce. While you cannot transfer a legal separation into a divorce, you will have done much of the legwork negotiating which property goes where during the legal separation process. So, if you later decide to get a divorce, you’ll still need to go through the steps in your state, but you may be able to speed through them a little faster. 

Do I have to get a lawyer to get divorced?

You don’t have to get a lawyer to get divorced, but in some cases, it can be beneficial.

If you don’t have much property and no minor children, you probably don’t need a lawyer. If you and your spouse agree on how to divide all of your marital property, that decreases the complexity of your case even further, reducing the need for a lawyer. 

You will need to make sure you follow your state’s requirements for living there and other legal guidelines, but this is a situation where you can probably go without a lawyer or legal advisor.

If you have minor children or lots of assets, however, divorce becomes much more complex. You’ll need to sort out child custody and possibly child support, too. In these cases, it’s a good idea to have a lawyer help you through the process, as you’ll probably need to conduct some negotiations. Having a legal advocate on your side can prove invaluable.

Can I get divorced with no job or money?

No state wants to keep you in a marriage you don’t want to be in. So, if you don’t think you can afford a divorce lawyer, you have options.

Every state has a legal aid office. These offices provide free or discounted legal services by attorneys in the state for a variety of legal issues, including divorce and domestic violence situations. 

You could also request a waiver from your state for the filing fee. Every state has guidelines allowing people to request a full or partial waiver of filing fees and court costs based on their income and other financial circumstances. Applying for these waivers could make divorce suddenly much more economical.

A low-cost divorce service like Hello Divorce is another solution. We offer economical plans to help you get divorced in your state, guiding and supporting you through every step of the process.